Author Topic: Carrhae 53BC  (Read 12216 times)

Patrick Waterson

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #30 on: June 13, 2012, 10:50:33 AM »
Well summarised, Roy.

Remembering the description of Surena's household retinue, we have
1) cataphracts
2) light cavalry
3) 'vassals'
4) 'slaves'

Given that the fourth category could be ambiguous, the first three might repay another look.  One is tempted by the mediaeval equivalent of 'household knights', 'household archers' and 'men-at-arms', and while taking such parallels too far can be misleading, it is possible that we have a not dissimilar arrangement here (and by extension throughout the Parthian army).

If so, then we could have three rather than two basic mounted troop types in the Parthian army:
1) cataphracts, probably lance-only (judging by their behaviour at Carrhae, admittedly not an exhaustive excursus)
2) specialised retinue horse archers, bow-only (or perhaps bow-and-lance)
3) minor gentry, unarmoured and/or part-armoured, lance and bow

The latter might even make up the bulk of a standard Parthian army of this period.

In Antony's repulse of the Parthians who attacked his testudos on the march, a number of firmly-delivered pila (thrust or shot) were sufficient to discourage further Parthian attentions, and 'slew' the closest Parthians, implying the latter were not particularly well armoured.  If cataphract armour could deflect a thrust (or thrown) pilum, then the Parthians who had closed with lance were probably not cataphracts (who would probably not be the first choice of troop type to operate in difficult country).  This would point towards the horse archers, or 'vassals' (if these are a definable troop category) or both being the troops engaged on this occasion.

The Romans do seem able to hold off the best the Parthians can muster as long as they keep to the plenty-of-missiles plus-short-sharp-counterattacks system.  As Roy observes, their troubles tend to begin when a subordinate gets the idea that a longer chase will see the barbarians off the field.  There are parallels with Crusader operations here.

Patrick
P.S. - an afterthought: when Crassus' men 'closed up' to avoid the archery and were promptly charged by the cataphracts, were they trying to enter testudo?
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Duncan Head

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #31 on: June 13, 2012, 09:29:00 PM »
If so, then we could have three rather than two basic mounted troop types in the Parthian army:
1) cataphracts, probably lance-only (judging by their behaviour at Carrhae, admittedly not an exhaustive excursus)
2) specialised retinue horse archers, bow-only (or perhaps bow-and-lance)
3) minor gentry, unarmoured and/or part-armoured, lance and bow

The latter might even make up the bulk of a standard Parthian army of this period.
On the other hand Dio 40.15 seems to support the "traditional" division into two types:

The Parthians make no use of a shield, but their forces consist of mounted archers and pikemen (hippotoxotai te kai kontophoroi)

suggesting that the archers and the kontos-lancers are separate; but then we get to

mostly cataphract (ta polla kataphraktoi).

Mostly cataphracts? Doesn't fit with Surenas' retinue in Plutarch. Of course, there is the theory that Cassius Dio was "really" commenting on later Roman failures in the East, perhaps Severus Alexander's defeat by the Sassanids, so perhaps he had the later Parthian army in mind?

cheers,
Duncan
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aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #32 on: June 13, 2012, 11:13:24 PM »
It is unlikely that either Plutarch or Dio is setting out to give us an analysis of the composition of the. Parthian army, any more than they give us a detailed listing of a Roman army. Both are writing well after the events that they describe so, unless they have a very good source, they are most likely, as Duncan says, to be describing the Parthians that those around them knew.
The expert in the field was very strongly of the view that the Parthian cataphracts in Parthian representations carry bows (though not all do).I think that is stronger evidence than whether a late source implies that cataphracts are only using lances.
Isn't, it likely that Roman authors give us very partial representations of barbarian forces because  their interest is to show the weapons and tactics of the enemy is  to establish ethnic typicality. That's to say  that  the Parthians are typified as horse archers and cataphracts because those are exotic and unusual and exemplify Parthianness.
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Roy
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #33 on: June 13, 2012, 11:24:44 PM »
Or, in this translation:

They are really formidable in warfare, but nevertheless they have a reputation greater than their achievements, because, in spite of their not having gained anything from the Romans, and having, besides, given up certain portions of their own domain, they have not yet been enslaved, but even to this day hold their own in the wars they wage against us, whenever they become involved in them. Now about their race and their country and their peculiar customs many have written, and I have no intention of describing them. But I will describe their equipment of arms and their method of warfare; for the examination of these details properly concerns the present narrative, since it has come to a point where this knowledge is needed. The Parthians make no use of a shield, but their forces consist of mounted archers and pikesmen [sic], mostly in full armour. Their infantry is small, made up of the weaker men; but even these are all archers. They practise from boyhood, and the climate and the land combine to aid both horsemanship and archery. The land, being for the most part level, is excellent for raising horses and very suitable for riding about on horse-back; at any rate, even in war they lead about whole droves of horses, so that they can use different ones at different times, can ride up suddenly from a distance and also retire to a distance speedily; and the atmosphere there, which is very dry and does not contain the least moisture, keeps their bowstrings tense, except in the dead of winter.

I suspect Dio intended the key (bold) extract to read: hippotoxai, de kai kontophoroi ta polla kataphraktoi, i.e. archers; plus lancers who are mostly (or heavily) armoured.  'Polla' could be (according to the Perseus lexicon) feminine or neuter; kontophoroi and kataphraktoi could both be masculine or feminine, but hippotoxai can only be masculine.  On this tenuous basis I assume the 'polla' is linked only to the kontophoroi, giving the sense that either most of the lancers are armoured or each lancer is heavily (much) armoured.

This, however one looks at it, still leaves only the two basic troop types.  The reason for supposing a dual-armed intermediate or third type rests on Plutarch's assertion that the Parthians attacking Antony 'laid aside' their bows and 'took up' their lances.  There remains the possibility that such a type, presumably based on minor nobility, existed during the first century BC but that the wealthier had been subsumed into the cataphracts and the poorer into the horse archers by the time Dio was writing.  This is, of course, still a hypothesis.

On a different subject, the point about dry climate and bowstrings may go some way to explaining the prevalence of the sling and (especially) the javelin outside the Near East.

Patrick


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Jim Webster

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #34 on: June 14, 2012, 10:39:56 AM »
I'd suggest Tacitus VI 35 is worth a look at.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/tac/a06030.htm
35. Among the Sarmatae the general's voice was not alone to be heard. They encouraged one another not to begin the battle with volleys of arrows; they must, they said, anticipate attack by a hand to hand charge. Then followed every variety of conflict. The Parthians, accustomed to pursue or fly with equal science, deployed their squadrons, and sought scope for their missiles. The Sarmatae, throwing aside their bows, which at a shorter range are effective, rushed on with pikes and swords. Sometimes, as in a cavalry-action, there would be alternate advances and retreats, then, again, close fighting, in which, breast to breast, with the clash of arms, they repulsed the foe or were themselves repulsed. And now the Albanians and Iberians seized, and hurled the Parthians from their steeds, and embarrassed their enemy with a double attack, pressed as they were by the cavalry on the heights and by the nearer blows of the infantry. Meanwhile Pharasmanes and Orodes, who, as they cheered on the brave and supported the wavering, were conspicuous to all, and so recognised each other, rushed to the combat with a shout, with javelins, and galloping chargers, Pharasmanes with the greater impetuosity, for he pierced his enemy's helmet at a stroke. But he could not repeat the blow, as he was hurried onwards by his horse, and the wounded man was protected by the bravest of his guards. A rumour that he was slain, which was believed by mistake, struck panic into the Parthians, and they yielded the victory.

Now the Penguin translation replaced the highlighted bit with

The Parthian cavalry, expert at withdrawals as well as pursuits, opened ranks to allow themselves room to shoot.

I do think it is interesting that Parthian cavalry armed with bow were able to withstand the combined attack of Sarmation cavalry and Albanian and Iberian infantry, and only broke on the rumour of the death of their leader.

I'd like to see what someone could make of the latin original

Jim
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #35 on: June 14, 2012, 11:56:41 AM »
I shall do my best.  :)

In Annals VI.34 Tacitus comments of the Parthians in this battle that "...their sole strength was in cavalry [illis sola in equite vis]" whereas the Iberians "were powerful in infantry [et pedite valebat]."  Parthian infantry was either not present or not very good.

Now for the important bit:

Variae hinc bellantium species
Different hence of fighting the ways

cum Parthus
with the Parthian

sequi vel fugere pari arte
to follow or to flee equal in skill

suetus distraherent turmas
their squadrons they distanced

spatius ictibus quarereret
opportunity with their missiles he sought

Sarmatae omisso arcu
The Sarmatians not using the bow

quo brevius valent
which little they valued

contis gladiisque ruerent
with lances and swords rushed in

Rendered less literally,

Each side fought differently: the Parthians, equally at home with advance or evasion, pulled back their squadrons to use their missiles, while the Sarmatians, disdaining their bows, came on rapidly with lance and sword.

Tacitus also distinguishes two types of fighting that occurred: cavalry-fight-style back-and-forth action on the one hand, and corps-a-corps struggle on the other.  One is tempted to connect these respectively with the Parthian horse archers and the cataphracts.

Incidentally, Pharasmenes and Orodes did not use 'javelins' but rather 'telis', usually 'missiles' but on occasion (as seemingly here) 'weapons'.  The weapons in question would almost certainly be lances (conti).

The 'cavalry on the heights' and 'nearer blows of the infantry' are misleading: 'quos super eques et proprioribus vulneribus pedites adflictabant' really means that the Parthians had the double problem of cavalry opponents at the same level and infantry opponents wounding them lower down (one sense of 'proprioribus' is 'in a more initmate area', but I think Tacitus just means low blows generally).  This suggests the Albanian and Iberian infantry were intermingling with the cavalry and acting as 'knifemen' to stick opposing cavalrymen while these were distracted by mounted opponents.

The hard-fighting Parthian cavalry may have been just the cataphracts, although it is hard to see the horse archers just pulling out and leaving the cataphracts to do all the melee fighting, especially with the Parthian king watching.  Interesting is that in VI.34 the Iberian king refers to his opponents as "picta auro Medorum agmina", the gold-painted battle-line of the Medes.  'Picta auro' could also mean 'embroidered with gold', and if this is the case here would indicate a significant part of the visible Parthian battle-line being unarmoured (not to mention overdressed).

The question remains whether the Iberians and Sarmatians put their heavier-armoured cavalry in the centre and lighter on the wings, and the Parthians the same.  If so, then the entire line might have eventually settled into a hand-to-hand clash of cavalry of more or less equal weight in each sector, perhaps explaining the staying-power of the Parthian archers.  It may be noteworthy that the 'Sarmatae' made a point of encouraging each other not to use arrows but to go straight into a charge, as if their troops were usually accustomed to a shooting-match and hence probably predominantly lightly armoured types.  But how 'light' would the presumably predominantly lance-armed Sarmatian wings be, and hence how 'light' were their able-to-hold-them Parthian opponents?

So - again we have the impression that the Parthians have two basic troop types, one heavy and close-fighting, one light and skirmishing or at least to-and-fro-ing in order to shoot, but mixed in with hints of additional melee capability for the latter.

Patrick
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aligern

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #36 on: June 14, 2012, 12:33:20 PM »
Dio gives the Parthians weapons suited to their ethnography and most importantly geography. Yet the lands they dominated included many cities and large mountain ranges. They also pushed into India  and held a large area there, though you could section them off as Indo Parthian.
For Dio and Plutarch the Parthians are 'other' they have different geography and customs and importantly social systems from the Romans. to a Roman all Parthians are slaves to the Great King, whereas we would see a Roman's actual relationship to the emperor as little different in practice. For these autors the two types of cavalry are enough to  describe the Parthians.

So I agree that what we see in the Western campaigns as armies composed of lancers and horse archers with the lancers varying from no armour to full armour for horse and man  and all having bows, is a fair representation of a Parthian army, but not the only one.
Jim's 'more interesting' list for DBMM which he might summarise here will describe a rather richer mix, I suspect.

Roy

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Jim Webster

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Re: Carrhae 53BC
« Reply #37 on: June 14, 2012, 01:10:51 PM »
This isn't the DBMM army list but comes from an army list done to accompany an article, so is older than the DBMM list (and I'm not stealing WRG copyright)
There are things about it which I think the DBMM list may well have done better

Parthian
Dry. Ag 2. Rv, H(G), O, E, RGo, Rd, BUA, Only after 141BC WW. M

C in C Irr Kn (X) or Irr Cv(S) before  163BC                       1
Sub general – as above             1-2

Horse archers                              20-100

Cataphracts-
Before 163BC Irr Cv(O) 7-20
Replace with Irr Cv(S)  up to 3
Replace with Irr Kn(X)  up to 20.
163BC and after
 Irr Kn(X)               7-20


Before 70 BC [only if no Greeks are used]
Hyrcanian Infantry and other infantry              (1)
Archers Irr Bw(I)              0-10
Replace Archers with Irr Ps(O) up to 4
Hyrcanians and Hill men  Irr Ax(O)  Up to 20. Must outnumber the archers.
Replace Irr Ax(O) with Irr Sp(I) as Hyrcanians   0-8
Replace Irr Ax(O) with Irr Ps(S)         0-4
Barricades    TF                                    0-8

Only Elymais from 147BC to 205AD
Guard thureophoroi –Reg Ax(S)          0-2
Archers Irr Ps (O) or Irr Bw(I) or Irr Bw(O)   *8-48

Only Parthian from 140BC to 70BC [Only if no Hyrcanians are used] (2)

either

Greek city militia, garrison troops. Reg Ax(I)  3-48
replace as Greek mercenaries or Seleucid military settlers    Reg Ax(S)  0-12
replace as Seleucid military settler pike men       Reg Pk(I)  0-16
replace as City militia cavalry Reg Cv(I) or Reg Cv(O)  0-3
City militia artillery Reg Art(S) 0-1

Or
140BC to 129BC
Seleucid Allies. – List Seleucid Book 2.

Only Parthian from 129BC to 35BC
Commagene allies- List Commagene (Bk 2)  0-15

Only Parthian after 127BC
Armenian or Gordyene allies –list Early Armenian and Gordyene (Bk 2)
Hatrene, Adiabene or Edessan subject allies- List Arabo-Aramaean (Bk 2)
Elymaian Allies  List Parthian (Bk 2)
Nomadic Arab Allies  List Later Pre-Islamic Arab (Bk 2)  0-12

Only Parthia from 70BC   (3)
Greek city militia, garrison troops. Reg Ax(I)  *3-24
Other City dwellers with javelins, bows or slings. Irr Ps. Half (S), half (O)
*10-30
City militia artillery Reg Art(S) 0-1

Only Parthian in 35AD
Sarmatian allies-list Siracae, Iazyges, later Rhoxolani Sarmatians (Bk 2)  0-8

Only Parthian in 130BC, 30BC, 9AD to 12AD, 35AD and 39AD to 41AD
Skythian Allies-List Kimmerian, Skythian, or Early Hu. Bk 1

Only Parthians after 216AD
Cataphract camels –Irr Cm(S)  [Only if no Hatrene Cm(S) present] 0-2
Daylami   Irr Ax(S)             

In this list I missed out the Suren Indo-Parthian option completely because I meant to cover it elsewhere
 * only if any are taken.


Comments
1)  The Hyrcanians are based on Polybius and the crossing of the mountains in Antiochus III eastern campaign.
I have tried to create the list so that you either have none, or a lot, which from what little we know seems to have been the case
I have also tried to exclude Greeks from armies with Hyrcanians, as Polybius mentions them massacring Greeks when facing the Seleucids
2) It seems that more Greeks were used earlier and that it may be that armies that fought in the south against Elam had considerable numbers of Greeks. I have tried to stop large numbers of Hyrcanians being used with large numbers of Greeks. This does tend to mean you get northeastern and southern armies.  .
3) I have allowed for a decline in the quality of Greek troops and also the effect of the Parthian ‘dark age’ which ended with the accession of Orodes II

« Last Edit: June 14, 2012, 01:12:37 PM by Jim Webster »
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