Author Topic: Carrhae 53BC  (Read 12217 times)

aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #15 on: June 09, 2012, 06:08:24 PM »
Those concubines could sure load up a baggage camel quickly!!
Roy
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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #16 on: June 09, 2012, 06:08:35 PM »
Break up the plutarch text as you want, I set to work on it, but then something cropped up and I had to post it.

Done. I used the Lacus Curtius structure to divide it into paras. I assume though it's a different translation (or, I know it is - your own?)

a year or two back I downloaded the complete Plutarch's Lives in one document off the web and it sits on my hard drive. It will be a 19th century translation, but cannot remember who's
It might be from Gutenburg
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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #17 on: June 09, 2012, 06:24:27 PM »
Those concubines could sure load up a baggage camel quickly!!
Roy
It's a technique to remember, when you need camels loading at speed, pull the wives off the job and leave it to the concubines!
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Duncan Head

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #18 on: June 09, 2012, 11:05:46 PM »
On numbers, the reason that I suspect more Parthians than Surena's 10,000 - but perhaps not very many more? - is Silaces. Cassius Dio 40.12.1-2 - rather earlier than the bit Jim has quoted - says:

But Crassus, desiring for his part to accomplish something that involved glory and at the same time profit, and seeing that no such thing was possible in Syria, where the people themselves were quiet, and those who had formerly warred against the Romans were by reason of their powerlessness causing no disturbance, made a campaign against the Parthians. He had no complaint to bring against them nor had the war been assigned to him; but he heard that they were exceedingly wealthy and expected that Orodes would be easy to capture, because he was but newly established. Therefore he crossed the Euphrates and advanced far into Mesopotamia, devastating and ravaging the country. For since his crossing was unexpected by the barbarians no careful guard of the ford had been kept. Consequently Silaces, then satrap of that region, was quickly defeated near Ichnae, a fortress so named, after contending with a few horsemen; and being wounded, he retired to report personally to the king the Romans' invasion.

The satrap Silaces doesn't just disappear or stay with the King, apparently, for Plutarch 21.4 has the dodgy Arab chief Ariamnes saying:

If you meant to fight, you should have made all possible haste, before the king should recover courage, and collect his forces together; at present you see Surena and Sillaces opposed to you, to draw you off in pursuit of them, while the king himself keeps out of the way.

And Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans 6.13.3, says:

When he arrived near Carrhae, the Parthians led  by their prefects Surenas and Silacea fell on the Romans and overwhelmed them with their arrows.

Therefore, it seems that Surenas was joined by the satrap of Mesopotamia Silaces presumably with whatever troops remained after his initial defeat, or could be subsequently collected, from the satrapal army of Mesopotamia.

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2012, 07:59:53 AM »
If Silaces was "contending with a few horsemen" it might be that they were just his household troops, it certainly doesn't sound as if they were the entire force of his Satrapy.
However the Satrapal forces may already have been called up and have been with the King.

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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #20 on: June 10, 2012, 10:33:17 AM »
Thanks, Duncan, for that additional point and information.

This all seems to point towards the following:

1) Surena had more than just his household at Carrhae.
2) From the way he behaved, he had noticeably less than Crassus ("they saw the enemy, contrary to their expectation, neither so many nor so magnificently armed as the Romans expected" - Plutarch, Crassus 23.6).

Exactly what he had, and what its heavy-light composition may have been, is a bit more nebulous.

Good point, Jim - if Silaces 'reported to the king' following his clash with Crassus, and was then fielded with Surena, it suggests that the full satrapal forces had not yet been mobilised at the time of his clash (or at any rate were not with him), but were by the time of Carrhae.  On the assumption that Silaces followed the initial procedure described in Plutarch, Life of Crassus, 24.3:

Their first design was with their lances to beat down and force back the first ranks of the Romans, but when they perceived the depth of their battle, and that the soldiers firmly kept their ground, they made a retreat...

he may have charged in and received a surprise and then been roughly handled by young Crassus' cavalry.  Such an outcome might go some way to explaining the confidence with which young Crassus set to at Carrhae, not realising he was up against a much wilier opponent.

This initial charge might have been cataphracts alone or might have been a mixed formation with cataphracts in front and lighter troops behind - there seems no good way to tell.  Surena "hid his main force behind the first ranks, and ordered them to hide the glittering of their armour with coats and skins," implying a skirmish screen or similar while also implying that this disposition and procedure were unusual.

I think - and this is just an opinion - that Silaces had tried a mixed-formation charge with his cataphracts in front and his lesser-armoured cavalry behind, and that the charge got stuck and Silaces' men were then hit, perhaps in flank, by Crassus' cavalry.  Surena, benefitting from Silaces' experience, was able to plan around it - but still attempted that first 'shock of impact' charge in the opening stages of the battle.

Patrick
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aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #21 on: June 10, 2012, 10:59:49 AM »
Would Sillaces 'contend with a few horsemen' against the Roman infantry?  Perhaps he fought just Publius and the Roman cavalry and was worsted. This, as you say would account for the overconfidence of the Crassi?

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Duncan Head

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #22 on: June 10, 2012, 03:21:54 PM »
Would Sillaces 'contend with a few horsemen' against the Roman infantry?
He's a Parthian aristocrat (presumably) leading the cavalry who dominate the Near East, and who have never met Roman infantry before - quite possibly (given that we know so little about the late Seleucid army or Seleucid-Parthian battles) never met any infantry who can stand up to them before. So - we don't really know, but he might quite possibly have done just that.
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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #23 on: June 10, 2012, 03:39:45 PM »
It could well be that Sillaces thought he might be able to hit the infantry before they were ready, it could could be that  he had a low opinion of infantry based on his own experience or the experience of his fathers generation

Where it says  "and being wounded, he retired to report personally to the king the Romans' invasion" rather gives the impression that if he hadn't been wounded he'd have hung in there contending.

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aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #24 on: June 10, 2012, 07:22:23 PM »
 How much ancient armies know about each other is a very interesting point Duncan.  We tend to see it as logical that one would bone up on one's enemies before launching or combatting an invasion. However, if they wanted to find out then the Parthians didn't have far to go, as they had good contacts with the Arabs and Armenians and the Armenians certainly knew what Roman infantry were about and the relative balance of legions and cataphracts. .

So I have this doubt that Sillaces with a few cavalry (who may well not be cataphracts , would take on a Roman legion frontally. Any decent commander is going to recognise that a lot  (30-40,000 infantry),of infantry with gleaming armour and big shields coming on in good order is not the  target of opportunity.  It just seems far more likely that there was a cavalry skirmish and Sillaces was outnumbered. Being an effeminate Easterner he presumably danced off to Herodes to show his wounds.
Rather than hanging in there Sillaces is going to show that he did not give up without a fight and then gather the rest of his forces and what support he can persuade Hyrodes to give. 
I am also seduced by the logic of Patrick's  suggestion here that the Sillaces incident played into Crassus decision to send Publius out after the Parthians, though a failure against Roman infantry would have the same effect on Roman attitudes.

Roy


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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #25 on: June 10, 2012, 08:36:15 PM »
It is interesting that (according to Plutarch) Surena's first action was to try a full-fledged charge with the apparent or real aim of bowling over the leading Roman ranks.  This is what tempts me to think Silaces might have conducted his action in the same way, but without forethought concerning what to do if it did not work as expected.

This is unlikely to have been a spontaneous 'French knights at Crecy' type of charge, as at Carrhae Surena's cataphracts obediently draw up where told and remove their coverings when told and Silaces' cataphracts (if he had them) would presumably have been similarly obedient to their lord.  It seems to me more likely that Surena wanted to test for himself the quality of these strange infantry who had neither bows nor pikes, perhaps privately wondering if Silaces was concealing a streak of incompetence behind his professions of failure.  In any event, in Plutarch's account (Dio is less detailed) the charge, evidently aiming at victory through shock, is the first action undertaken by the Parthians, and evidently convinces Surena that plenty of softening up - and combined-arms action - will be required.  The camel train with masses of reserve arrows indicates that Surena was not placing too much faith on winning outright through this initial charge.

I read this as Surena evaluating his foe, possibly checking the accuracy of what Silaces told him, conceivably also trying to bring out the Roman cavalry in order to lead them off and destroy them (which he eventually achieved, though it took a different approach to do so).

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aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #26 on: June 10, 2012, 10:31:52 PM »
The camel triain as evidence of Surena's planning is an excellent point, Patrick. To me also that says  that the Parthians are relying upon their horse archers from the beginning and that the cataphract charges are designed to force the Romans into an order which enables the horse bows to get shots from behind the flanks. I am going with Dio on that and I am not Dio's greatest fan, but it seems much more logical than that the cataphracts should charge into the mass of Roman infantry say 35,000 strong and in good order.
The 'good order, point is important because troops can tell how confident an opponent is from their pace, the order of their ranks and the steadiness of their spears and standards. Of course it is not impossible that a couple of thousand cataphracts think that they can sweep away a huge square of good infantry, but the careful preparation of an arrow based solution argues against it.

Later the horse bows are being used against the Roman rear. Publius is sent out against them and, some long distance away, meets the cataphracts and is destroyed on a hillock. That suggests that the cataphracts are in at least two, possibly more places and that they are not being used for a massed charge to contact, but rather charges that break off, once the job of forcing the Romans into a more open order has been achieved.
In my view they would then keep pace with the ormation, because this is a moving battle, ever ready to attack any Romans who close up to defend against the archers.

As an aside I wonder if we are not somewhat obsessed with cataphracts,dramatically equipped and superficially resembling Western knights.

It would be interesting if someone could post up the descriptions of the Roman versus Parthian battles against anthony and  Corbulo as that , I believe does show them attempting more aggressive actions with the armoured cavalry.
(I am writing this on an I-pad and not technically competent to manage a large cut and paste on it!

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #27 on: June 12, 2012, 06:20:22 PM »
Corbulo first - during the siege of Artaxata Corbulo is attacked by a Parthian army (Tacitus Annals XIII.40 - with necessary corrections in translation):

Meantime Tiridates, ashamed of seeming utterly powerless by not interfering with the siege, and afraid that, in attempting to stop it, he would entangle himself and his cavalry on difficult ground, resolved finally to display his forces and either give battle on the first opportunity, or, by a pretended flight, prepare the way for some stratagem. Suddenly, he threw himself on [circumfundit = surrounded] the Roman columns [agmen Romanum = the Roman battle-line], without however surprising our general, who had formed his army for fighting as well as for marching [viae pariter et pugnae composuerat = had prepared routes and assembled for battle*]. On the right and left flanks marched [indecebat = he moved/sent] the third and sixth legions, with some picked men of the tenth in the centre; the baggage was secured within the lines, and the rear was guarded by a thousand cavalry, who were ordered to resist any close attack of the enemy, but not to pursue his retreat. On the wings were the foot-archers and the remainder of the cavalry, with a more extended line on the left wing, along the base of some hills [ima collium = up to the last/closest of the hills], so that should the enemy penetrate the centre, he might be encountered both in front and flank. Tiridates faced [adsultare = assaulted] us in skirmishing order [ex diverso = from several directions], but not within missile-range [non usque ad ictum teli = not all the way up to loosing missiles], now threatening attack, now seemingly afraid, with the view of loosening our formation and falling on isolated divisions. Finding that there was no breaking of our ranks from rashness, and that only one cavalry officer advanced too boldly, and that he falling pierced with arrows, confirmed the rest in obedience by the warning, he retired on the approach of darkness.

*Corbulo could not have been marching: he was in the middle of a siege!

One sees the Parthians making feint attacks from several directions to draw out the Romans, but no more than that in the face of the steady Roman line.  Corbulo's provisions against possible Parthian penetration of flanks and rear are instructive.

Patrick
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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #28 on: June 12, 2012, 09:57:45 PM »
And now Antony, retreating after the battle in which he killed 80 Parthians and captured 30.

Plutarch, Antony, 41.

41. As he was about to lead his army back by the road over which it had come, which ran through a level country without trees, a man of the Mardian race, who had great familiarity with the Parthian habits, and had already shown himself faithful to the Romans in the battle over the engines of war,1 came to Antony and urged him in his flight to keep close to the hills upon his right, and not to expose an encumbered army of legionaries to so large a force of mounted archers, in bare and extended tracts; [2] this was the very thing, he said, which Phraates had designed when he induced him by friendly conferences to raise the siege; he himself, he said, would conduct the army by a way that was shorter and furnished a greater abundance of provisions.

On hearing this, Antony took counsel with himself. He did not wish to have the appearance of distrusting the Parthians, now that a truce had been made, but since he approved of the shorter road and of having their march take them past inhabited villages, he asked the Mardian for a pledge of his good faith. [3] The Mardian offered to let himself be put in fetters until he should bring the army safely into Armenia, and he was put in fetters, and led them for two days without their encountering trouble. But on the third day, when Antony had put the Parthians entirely out of his thoughts, and was marching along in loose order because of his confidence, the Mardian noticed that a dike of the river had been recently torn away, and that the stream was flowing out in great volume towards the road over which their march must be made. [4] He comprehended that this was the work of the Parthians, throwing the river in their way to obstruct and delay the Roman march, and urged Antony to look out and be on his guard, as the enemy were near. And just as Antony was setting his legionaries in array and arranging to have his javelineers and slingers make a sally through them against the enemy, the Parthians came into view and began to ride around the army in order to envelope and throw it into confusion on all sides. [5] Whenever the Roman light-armed troops sallied out against them, the Parthians would inflict many wounds with their arrows, but sustain yet more from the leaden bullets
[molubdisi] and javelins [akontiois] of the Romans, and therefore withdraw. Then they would come up again, until the Celts, massing their horses together, made a charge upon them and scattered them, so that they showed themselves no more that day.

Antony faces Parthian tactics similar to those faced by Corbulo: the Parthians ride up, spread around the Romans and try to threaten them from as many sides and in as many places as possible.  Faced by discipline and showers of missiles, they back off and eventually call it a day.

But then ...

42. Having thus learned what he ought to do, Antony covered not only his rear, but also both his flanks, with numerous javelineers and slingers, led his army in the form of a hollow square, and gave orders to his horsemen to rout the enemy when they attacked, but after routing them not to pursue them further. Consequently the Parthians, during four successive days, suffered greater loss than they inflicted, became less eager, and made the winter an excuse for thoughts of going away.

[2] On the fifth day, however, Flavius Gallus, an efficient and able soldier in high command, came to Antony and asked him for more light-armed troops from the rear, and for some of the horsemen from the van, confident that he would achieve a great success. Antony gave him the troops, and when the enemy attacked, Gallus beat them back, not withdrawing and leading them on towards the legionaries, as before, but resisting and engaging them more hazardously. [3] The leaders of the rear guard, seeing that he was being cut off from them, sent and called him back; but he would not listen to them. Then, they say, Titius the quaestor laid hold of his standards and tried to turn them back, abusing Gallus for throwing away the lives of so many brave men. But Gallus gave back the abuse and exhorted his men to stand firm, whereupon Titius withdrew. Then Gallus forced his way among the enemy in front of him, without noticing that great numbers of them were enveloping him in the rear. [4] But when missiles
[ballomenos - intriguingly, this usually indicates thrown missiles] began to fall upon him from all sides, he sent and asked for help. Then the leaders of the legionaries, among whom was Canidius, a man of the greatest influence with Antony, are thought to have made no slight mistake. For when they ought to have wheeled their entire line against the enemy, they sent only a few men at a time to help Gallus, and again, when one detachment had been overcome, sent out others, and so, before they were aware of it, they came near plunging the whole army into defeat and flight. But Antony himself speedily came with his legionaries from the van to confront the fugitives, and the third legion speedily pushed its way through them against the enemy and checked his further pursuit.

Notice how easy it is for even an experienced Roman commander to become deluded that he is making effective headway against the Parthians when in fact he is being sucked into a trap.

Antony pushed on, with more care among his subordinates.  The Parthians apparently became frustrated and finally they tried the kind of attack that Surena seems to have used against Crassus.

45. On the following day they went forward under better protection; and the Parthians met with a great surprise when they attacked them. For they thought they were riding up for plunder and booty, not battle, and when they encountered many missiles and saw that the Romans were fresh and vigorous and eager for the fray, they were once more tired of the struggle. [2] However, as the Romans were descending some steep hills, the Parthians attacked them and shot at them as they slowly moved along. Then the shield-bearers [thureophoroi - an interesting use of the term] wheeled about, enclosing the lighter armed troops [psilous] within their ranks, while they themselves dropped on one knee and held their shields out before them. The second rank held their shields out over the heads of the first, and the next rank likewise. The resulting appearance is very like that of a roof, affords a striking spectacle, and is the most effective of protections against arrows, which glide off from it. [3] The Parthians, however, thinking that the Romans dropping on one knee was a sign of fatigue and exhaustion, laid aside their bows, grasped their spears [kontous] by the middle and came to close quarters. But the Romans, with a full battle cry, suddenly sprang up, and thrusting [paiontes = striking hard, not necessarily in melee] with their javelins [hussous = pila] slew the foremost of the Parthians and put all the rest to rout. This happened also on the following days as the Romans, little by little, proceeded on their way.

Finally, after a harrowing march on short rations and occasionally bad water, Antony's army reached safety.

49. Day was already dawning, and the army was beginning to assume a certain order and tranquillity, when the arrows of the Parthians fell upon the rear ranks, and the light-armed troops were ordered by signal to engage. The men-at-arms, too, again covered each other over with their shields, as they had done before, and so withstood their assailants, who did not venture to come to close quarters. [2] The front ranks advanced little by little in this manner, and the river came in sight. On its bank Antony drew up his horsemen to confront the enemy, and set his sick and disabled soldiers across first. And presently even those who were fighting had a chance to drink at their ease; for when the Parthians saw the river, they unstrung their bows and bade the Romans cross over with good courage, bestowing much praise also upon their valour.

Antony had found a system that worked, stuck to it, and it brought him through.  Noteworthy is that because of the prompt and well-organised missile coverage, the Parthians did not manage to set up their now-you-get-shot, now-you-get-charged arrangement that had worked so well against Crassus.

There are undoubtedly several observations to be made concerning the foregoing.  Please go ahead and make them.

Patrick
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aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #29 on: June 13, 2012, 09:20:04 AM »
Thanks for that Patrick.

based upon the Parthian behaviour above one might draw two conclusions
a) That the Parthians are also 'skirmishing, with their cataphracts and that they case their bows and move to the charge or;
b) That  the Parthian lancers here are light and mobile  (and Jim and I would  think armoured and unarmoured), that they are not ponderous cataphracts but nimble 'light lancers' with bow.

It is possible that Plutarch means that the Parthians have bow armed cavalry and lance armed cavalry and that the bow armed are withdrawn and the heavy armed take up the fight, however the translation does not read like that to me.

I note that  When Mark Anthony follows  the tactic of using missile-men and cavalry with short tactical charges  it works to drive off the horse bows, when he lets a subordinate follow through with a long charge , trouble ensues.

Roy
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