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The Parthians page 2

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The next conflict of Parthia with Rome came in 40 b.c., when Syria and Phoenicia, and all the southern coast of Asia Minor, were overrun by her troops. The triumvir Antony sent forces against them and these won three victories, the last involving the death of Pacorus, a good soldier and statesman, son of Orodes, who had associated him with himself in the Parthian rule. This issue ended attempts to extend the dominion of the Arsacid monarchs towards the west. The death of Pacorus was quickly followed by that of his aged and grief-stricken father, Orodes, who abdicated in favour of Phraates, the eldest of his surviving 30 sons, only to die, by one of the most atrocious of parricides, at the hands of the son thus promoted to power. In the following year, 36 b.c., Antony, eager to win renown at the expense of Parthia, invaded the empire with an immense army of foot and horse. A detached portion of his forces was utterly ruined in a battle, with the loss of 10,000 killed and of all the baggage and engines of war for sieges, and, in his retreat from the unsuccessful siege of a strong place, Antony's own command was most severely handled. The total Roman loss was nearly one-third of the 100,000 men who had begun the campaign. The general result of this warfare, and of Parthian campaigns in Armenia and Media against Roman forces, was to leave the great Eastern power still predominant in her own region. Under Augustus, Roman vanity was flattered by the voluntary restoration of the standards and the surviving prisoners taken from Crassus and Antony. This act was vaunted by the courtly Roman poets as a triumph for Rome, the truth being that the unpatriotic act of the Parthian sovereign, Phraates, was caused by the weakness of his position, due to internal strife. Augustus might, at any moment, set up a pretender as rival, and Phraates used the most acceptable means of conciliation. There were subsequent lengthy dynastic troubles in Parthia, in which both Augustus and Tiberius interfered with effect, setting up and putting down occupants of the throne, sometimes with the use of armed force. Under Nero, Parthia and Rome were again at war concerning the affairs of Armenia, and the legions under the skilful and gallant Corbulo, in three years' fighting, won many advantages, compelling the Parthian king, in a.d. 60, to acknowledge his defeat. Three years later there was more warfare, in which a Roman army was forced to surrender upon terms, but Corbulo, replaced in command, with a large army, restored the credit of the Roman empire by his mere appearance in the field. The Parthian king, Vologases I., made terms with Nero by submitting to Rome a decision concerning the throne of Armenia, and for about half a century from a.d. 65 peace was undisturbed.

Early in the 2nd century a.d. the warlike and able Roman emperor Trajan turned his attention towards Parthia, when he had effected, about a.d. 114, the conquest of Dacia and the reduction of that country to the form of a Roman province. The Roman ruler seems to have aimed at crashing the Eastern world and rivalling the fame of Alexander. Chosroes, the Parthian king, had been dealing with the affairs of Armenia, and this was made a pretext for war. In the winter of a.d. 114-115 Trajan quitted Antioch with a great army. First receiving Armenia's submission and annexing that country to the empire, and leaving garrisons in the chief strongholds, he made a double invasion of Parthia, by way of Nisibis in the north, and along the line taken southwards by Crassus. All upper Mesopotamia was overrun and annexed to the Roman empire, Chosroes withdrawing his forces beyond the Tigris. During the winter of 115-116 a fleet of vessels in pieces was constructed at Nisibis and conveyed in waggons to the Tigris. A passage was forced, against the resistance of the mountaineers, by a bridge made over the river, and then Nineveh, Arbela, and Gaugamela were occupied, Chosroes, with the usual Parthian tactics, still retiring and drawing on his foe. After recrossing the Tigris into Mesopotamia, and taking Hatra, a large town, Trajan, marching down the Euphrates, took Babylon without a blow, and then received the submission of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, facing each other on the Tigris. The Parthian king had thus abandoned his capital, taking with him his chief treasures, and hoping to draw his enemy eastwards, and wear him out by distance and by guerilla warfare. Trajan was too wary for such a course to succeed. He chose to take the surrender of the capital as the submission of the empire, and passed in triumph on shipboard down the Tigris to the Persian Gulf, which was reached in the summer of a.d. 116. In the meantime, revolt had broken out in his rear, with the expulsion or slaughter of his garrisons at Seleucia, Hatra, Nisibis, Edessa, and other towns. The greatest vigour and promptitude were needed, and these, in Trajan's person, were forthcoming. Seleucia was stormed and burnt, and the other towns were recovered, but some Roman divisions were destroyed; and Trajan, on his return to Ctesiphon, abandoned his idea of conquering the Parthian empire, and retired, after appointing, and with his own hand crowning, a man of Arsacid blood in place of Chosroes. The Romans reached Antioch after suffering some further loss, and Trajan, on his way back to Rome, died in Cilicia in the summer of A.D. 117.

Parthia was again an independent power, and Hadrian, the successor of Trajan, gave up Armenia, Mesopotamia, and other territory, and withdrew the legions to the west of the Euphrates, thus re-establishing the state of affairs under Augustus. Tranquillity prevailed until, on the death of the pacific Roman emperor Antoninus in a.d. 161, a Parthian monarch, Vologases III., expelled the Roman nominee from the throne of Armenia, the old battle-field of strife between the two powers. A Roman army was signally defeated in Armenia. Another victory was won by the Parthians in Syria, and Palestine was overrun. Great alarm was excited in Rome, but in 163 a Roman general of the olden type, Avidius Cassius, reorganised the Syrian legions and drove the Parthians across the Euphrates. Cassius then pressed on, eager to rival the doings of Trajan, and gained battle after battle. He besieged, took, and burnt Seleucia; occupied Ctesiphon, where the royal palace was pillaged and destroyed; and, never beaten in battle, recovered all the conquests of Trajan. Parthia wholly lost western Mesopotamia, and Cassius. and his men retired with glory. Their return to Italy was marked by a terrible plague, the seeds of which were brought by the troops from the marshy regions around the lower course of the Tigris and Euphrates. Tens of thousands died in Rome, including many persons of high position; Italy was ravaged by the disease in every part, and the malady spread beyond the Alps to the German Ocean, carrying off half the population. These events occurred in the reign of the Roman emperor Aurelius. The emperor Septimius Severus renewed the contest with Parthia by crossing the Euphrates in 195. Recalled to Italy and Gaul to deal with a rival emperor, who was defeated and slain in 197, Severus again crossed the Euphrates in 198, to repel a Parthian invasion, and began operations which had brilliant success. Babylon and Seleucia were taken by desertion of the defenders, and, after a battle outside the walls, Ctesiphon was stormed. This third capture, within the space of less than a century, was marked by extreme severity of the conqueror. Massacre and pillage were carried on to the fullest extent. All the adult males perished by the sword, and many thousands of women and children were carried off as slaves. The conqueror was then forced to retreat from lack of provisions, and his Parthian campaign ended with two unsuccessful sieges of Hatra, in Upper Mesopotamia, the city being defended by the inhabitants with the greatest courage and engineering skill. The expedition had revealed the decaying state of the Parthian empire, and the Roman power was fully established not only in the long-disputed Mesopotamia, but in the fertile region beyond the Tigris, called Adiabene, the richest part of ancient Assyria. The last king of Parthia was Artabanus V., who came to power in a.d. 215. The Roman emperor Caracalla, the vain, weak, and ambitious son of Severus, aimed at Alexander's exploit of conquering the East, and entered Parthia with a large force in a.d. 216. His conduct was that of a violent madman. He had made proposals to marry the daughter of the Parthian king, and to make an alliance between the two powers, with the view of founding a joint universal monarchy. Artabanus thought both proposals absurd, but felt obliged to pretend to yield, and welcomed the Roman at Ctesiphon. The Roman troops, at their emperor's signal, began to massacre the people, and Artabanus escaped with difficulty. Caracalla then retired with a great booty, plundering and burning on his route. At Arbela the Parthian royal burial-place was violated, and the remains of the monarchs were scattered. The emperor then wrote to the Senate in Rome, announcing himself as the conqueror of all the East. In the spring of 217 he was murdered in Mesopotamia by one of his guards, and Macrinus, the chief conspirator, a commander of the Prastorian body-guard, was raised to power. Artabanus had been making great preparations to avenge the treacherous deed of the Romans at Ctesiphon, and his force included a camel-corps of men in complete armour, picked troops carrying very long spears. A three-days' battle took place near Nisibis, in Upper Mesopotamia, and the Romans, after desperate fighting, were defeated. Macrinus had fled to camp during the struggle, and he had to submit to ignominious terms. The captives and plunder carried off by Caracalla were restored, and an enormous sum was exacted from the Romans. The last struggle between the two empires had ended in success for Parthia just before her own downfall.

The Parthian dominion was one of those kingdom-empires of loose formation which always lack stability unless one of the races composing them has a great superiority of power and resources over any one, or two combined, of the other component parts, as is the case with Prussia in the modern German Empire, and with England in the British. Media, Armenia, Persia, Babylonia, Bactria, Assyria, were each of them singly provinces equal to Parthia proper, and the Parthians, the suzerains of the vassal territories, had long been declining in vigour. For unknown reasons, it was the Persians who took the lead in revolt, and with speedy and complete success. Artaxerxes, the young and energetic tributary ruler of Persia rose a d. 225, proclaiming the independence of his country. Media was invaded, and Artabanus then took the field. In the last of three great battles he was defeated and slain, and the Parthian Empire was soon afterwards overthrown, while Persia, whose career from this time will be traced in a later part of this history, became again a great power in the world.

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