Battle of Carrhae and the Parthian archers – notes

Back to the main article

1. Rawlinson, G.: The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy. Geography, History, and Antiquities of Parthia, London, 1873, p. 133–149; Debevoise, N. C.: A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938, p. 70–78; Keaveney, A.: Roman Treaties with Parthia circa 95 – circa 64 B. C., AJPh 102/2, 1981, p. 195–212; idem: The King and the War-Lords: Romano Parthian Relations Circa 64–53 B. C., AJPh 103/4, 1982, p. 412–428; Sampson, G. C.: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East, Barnsley, 2008, p. 83–93; Sheldon, R. M.: Rome's Wars in Parthia: Blood in the Sand, London/Portland, 2010, p. 13–28.

2. Plut. Crassus16.

3. Rawson, E.: Crassorum Funera, Latomus 41, 1982, p. 540–549 and Weggen, K.: Der lange Schatten von Carrhae. Studien zu M. Licinius Crassus, Hamburg, 2011, p. 49–55 think that Crassus' son Publius played an important role in his motives and plans. It is, however, not likely that Publius was Crassus' main reason for organising the Eastern campaign. There is no convincing prof for such assumption in our sources either.

4. Debevoise, N. C.: op. cit., p. 75–78; Černý, J.: Crassus a Parthové (dissertation), Praha, 1948, p. 20–34.

5. Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 106 speculates, that the Romans supported Mithridates after all, although not by sending troops. This is possible. But our sources do not tell us if they really supported him, how much they supported him and if they supported him with the prospect of their own planned invasion of Parthia. Any conclusions in this regard are therefore dubious.

6. Černý, J.: op. cit., p. 31–34. Opinions about the date of Mithridates' death are not unanimous. Some scholars place it in the year 55 B. C. or even earlier, others think that Mithridates still held up when Crassus started his first campaign, whereas some regard it as mistake of the Roman general that he returned to Syria after the initial successes of 54 B. C. and did not hurry to help the besieged Mithridates. Nevertheless if Mithridates fell during Crassus' first campaign, it would explain, why the Roman general did not hurry further, but rather returned to Syria to prepare for the war better. See Debevoise, N. C.: op. cit., p. 78; Gutschmid, A. von: Geschichte Irans und seiner Nachbarländer von Alexander dem Grossen bis zum Untergang der Arsaciden, Tübingen, 1888, p. 87; Schneiderwirth, J. H.: Die Parther oder das neupersische Reich unter den Arsaciden nach griechisch-römischen Quellen, Heiligenstadt, 1874, p. 52–53; Rawlinson, G. C.: op. cit., 1873, p. 149–150; Regling, K.: Crassus' Partherkrieg, Klio 7, 1907, p. 361; August, B.: Der Partherfeldzug des Crassus und das militärische Problem der römischen Niederlage bei Carrhä (Dissertation), Leipzig, 1925, p. 5–11; Dobiáš, J.: Dějiny římské provincie syrské, Praha, 1924, p. 123 note 13; Tarn, W. W.: Parthia, in: CAH IX, 1932, p. 604; Keaveney, A.: op. cit., 1982, p. 412; Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 105; Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit., p. 31.

7. Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 362–363; Keaveney, A.: op. cit., 1982, p. 419–423; Marshall, B. A.: Crassus: A Political Biography, Amsterdam, 1976, p. 150; Plutarch's report, that one of the tribunes of the people, C. Ateius Capito, even formally cursed Crassus, was questioned – see Simpson, A. D.: The Departure of Crassus for Parthia, TAPA 69, 1938, p. 532–541; Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 21–45.

8. For tracing of Crassus' travel in the East with dates see Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 363–364.

9. About the legality of Crassus' campaign see Marshall, B. A.: op. cit., p. 142–146; Keaveney, A.: op. cit., 1982; Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 56–73.

10. Crassus' first campaign of 54 B. C.: Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 364–367; Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 99–103.

11. Plut. Crassus 17.

12. Cass. Dio XL. 12.

13. For detailed discussion see Regling, K.: De belli Parthici Crassiani fontibus, Berolini, 1899, p. 34–36, note 72; idem: op. cit., 1907, p. 366–367, note 10.

14. Plut. Crassus 18; Florus I. 46; Cass. Dio XL. 16; Festus 17 probably incorrectly states Ctesiphon.

15. Crassus was unjustly criticised for not continuing in the campaign further to Seleucia and Babylon or at least wintering on the enemy territory (Plut. Crassus17; Cass. Dio XL. 13). Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 368–369; August, P.: op. cit., p. 5–11; Marshall, B. A.: op. cit., p. 151–153;  Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 101–103.

16. Joseph. B.J. I. 179; A.J. XIV. 105–109; Oros. VI. 13; Zonar. V. 7; Hegesippus I. 20; Moses of Chorene II. 17.

17. Plut. Crassus 17; see also Cass. Dio XL. 13.

18. Marshall, B. A.: op cit., p. 152; Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 103.

19. Plut. Crassus 17.

20. Plut. Crassus 19. Our sources imply that these rich and close to each other lying cities were the target of Crassus campaign (specifically about Seleucia writes: Plut. Crassus 18;  Cass. Dio XL. 16, 20; Florus I. 46; Vell. Pater. II. 46; Festus 17 probably wrongly states Ctesiphon). This corresponds with the logical consideration that Crassus wanted especially to acquire influence in or add to the Roman empire the rich territories of Mesopotamia, which were adjoined to Roman territories and in which large part of the population was Greek, friendly and culturally close to Rome. He would not gain much from a possible attack of the distant traditional core of the Parthian empire lying south-east from the Caspian sea.

21. This is suggested also by Plutarch's comment about the legation sent to Crassus by Artavasdes after the Parthian attack on Armenia with the information, that because of this invasion Artavasdes cannot send reinforcements to the Romans (Plut. Crassus 22). Also Orodes apparently supposed that the Armenians will assist Rome in the war and to prevent or at least hamper this cooperation he invaded Armenia with part of his army.

22. In the Greek sources the name of the Parthian general appears as Surenas (gr. Σουρήνας, nevertheless in fact it is just a Greek form of his family name – Sūrēn – which belonged to members of the most important of Parthian clans, second only to the Arsacids, which he belonged to. We do not know his real name then. Nevertheless Plutarch provides some information about him. With regard to wealth and influence he was a very important person, second only after the king. As a member of the aforementioned clan, he had the hereditary privilege to put the crown on the head of a new Parthian king. He was also excellent general. It was him, who suppressed the revolt of Mithridates, captured Seleucia (allegedly he was the first to climb on the city walls) and reinstalled Orodes on the throne. His personal retinue allegedly comprised 1000 heavy cavalrymen and even more light cavalrymen. All of his vassals counted more than 10000. On his travels he was accompanied by 1000 camels, who carried his baggage, and 200 wagons for his concubines (from these numbers some scholars mistakenly put forward conclusions about the number of Parthian soldiers by Carrhae, see below). Surenas was also a man of great personal beauty. At the time of the battle of Carrhae, he was almost 30 years old. See Plut. Crassus 21; see also Bivar, A. D. H.: op. cit., 1983 p. 50–52. Some scholars noticed some similarities between Surenas and Rustam, the hero of the important Persian epos The Book of Kings (Shahnameh) by the poet Ferdowsi (AD 940–1020) and proposed the assumption that Surenas may have at least partly been a model for the person of Rustam. See Bivar, A. D. H.: Gondophares and the Indo-Parthians, in: Curtis, V. S. – Stewart, S. (eds.), The Age of the Parthians, New York, 2007, p. 26–36; viz též Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 279–283. The similarities are, however, very general and the identification of Surenas with Rustam is therefor still just a speculation.

23. The opinion of G. C. Sampson (op. cit., p. 112, 119), that Orodes decided to sacrifice Surenas, is certainly not correct. It would be ill-judged at least to sacrifice his best man with a significant part of the army at such a difficult time.

24. Plut. Crassus 19; Cass. Dio XL. 17; Florus I. 46; Festus 17.

25. Florus I. 46.

26. Appian. B.C. II. 18.

27. Plut. Crassus 20.

28. Two longer accounts (those of Plutarch and Cassius Dio) and some short notices about the battle survived to our times. Plutarch's report is not only the longest and most detailed, but also most reliable. Plutarch had very probably a high quality source, written apparently by an educated person contemporary to Crassus and knowledgeable about described events and eastern regions generally. Although scholars have put forward several theories who could this Plutarch's source have been, not one of them is totally conclusive. For a detailed analysis of sources about the battle of Carrhae see Regling, K.: op. cit., 1899. See also Sampson, G.: op. cit., p. 186–193.

29. Regling, K.: op. cit., 1899, p. 19; idem: op. cit., 1907, p. 372–373.

30. Plut. Crassus 31; Appian. B.C. II.18, 49. Desertion of allies: see below.

31. Plut. Crassus 17.

32. Ibid.

33. See Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 608; Smith, F.: op. cit., p. 241–242, 250–251, although his deductions based on the number of cohorts in the battle line arrangement are not very convincing; see also Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 108 and also 114, where, however, the author comes to two different conclusions for the totals of the Roman army at Carrhae using two different methods of counting! Brunt, P. A.: Italian Manpower, 225 B. C. – A. D. 14, Oxford, 1971, p. 462–463 thinks that these 7000 men were taken from individual legions, did not take part in the battle and then formed the majority of the 10000 survivors.

34. Plut. Crassus 17, 25. With regard to the other cavalrymen we do not have any information. Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 115 thinks that all of them were local levies. Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 373 on the other hand is of the opinion that only 1900 of them were locals from Syria and surroundings and the others were Italian soldiers.

35. Plut. Crassus 25.

36. Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 96.

37. Ibid, p. 116–117.

38. Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 376 convincingly disproves opinions of some other scholars, who think that Crassus marched east or south-east immediately after crossing the Euphrates.

39. The name Abgaros (or rather in a distorted form Augaros) appears by Cassius Dio. Plutarch names the betrayer Ariamnés, Florus and Festus Mazzarus or Mazzares. On the first look inconsistent reports can be combined in a meaningful unity. Ariamnés was probably the cognomen of Abgar, Mazzarus then probably a latinised version of the Arabian form of his family name – see Regling, K.: op. cit., 1899, p. 31–34.

40. Plut. Crassus 21; Cass. Dio XL. 20; Florus I. 46; Festus 17.

41. For various opinions about the reasons for the march to the east and Abgar's role see Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p.  378–379; Smith, F.: op. cit., p. 245–247; Rawlinson, G.: op. cit., 1873, p. 163–164; August, B.: op. cit., p. 13–22; Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 608; Černý, J.: op. cit., p. 69–73; Бокщанин, Г.А.: Битва при Каррах, Вестник древней истории 1949/4, s. 46 note 6; Marshall, B. A.: op. cit., p. 154–157; Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 109–110; Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit., p. 35.

42. Plut. Crassus 22; Florus I. 46; see also Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 379–380; idem: Zur historischen Geographie des mesopotamischen Parallelogramms, Klio 1, 1901, p. 468–469; Günther, A.: Beiträge zur Geschichte der Kriege zwischen Römern und Parthern, Berlin, 1922, p. 7–8 (especially note 2 on page 7).

43. Marshall, B. A.: op. cit., p. 155; Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 608; Rawlinson, G.: op. cit., 1873, p. 156; see also Günther, A.: op. cit., p. 12–13.

44. We do not know when exactly. Plutarch's report implies that it happened first during the march through the desert, nevertheless if the meeting occurred actually still before the turn from the Euphrates, it may be one of the explanations for the change of the original plan and the march to the east.

45. A. Günther: op. cit., p. 23 note 2 believes Plutarch in this point and from this information concludes that the march of the Roman army from Euphrates to Balissus ran along the southern slope of the Masius mountains.

46. Plut. Crassus 22.

47. Plut. Crassus 22. Cassius Dio XL. 21 claims that Abgar remained with Crassus until the battle and then suddenly and viciously turned his troops against the Romans and attacked their rear. This is unlikely, though. Plutarch's report is more reliable (see also below).

48. Groebe, P.: Der Schlachttag von Karrhae, Hermes 42, 1907, p. 315–322.

49. Plut. Crassus 23.

50. Plut. Crassus 23. Opinions about the actual form of the battle line vary. K. Regling: op. cit., 1907, p. 381 after consulting P. Groebe concluded that two lines of 25 cohorts each formed the front and the rear of the formation, whereas the flanks were formed by 10 cohorts. The scheme of this disposition can be found in Drumann, W. – Groebe, P.: Geschichte Roms 4. Band, Leipzig, 1908, p. 116. Smith, F.: op. cit., p. 248–250 envisaged a square formation, but he also thought that at the time of the contact with the Parthians and the attack of Publius Crassus the square was not completely finished yet. Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 609 adopts Smith's conclusions, but he also admits that we cannot be certain about this. Lammert, F.: Die römische Taktik zu Beginn der Kaiserzeit und die Geschichtsschreibung, Philologus, Supplementband XXII, Heft II, Leipzig, 1931, p. 12–18 after a thorough study of ancient tactical treatises concluded, that the battle line might in fact have been formed by two deep marching columns, that could any time quickly turn sidewards so as to create a square formation with two fronts (ἀμφίστομον πλινθίον). The baggage would in such a case be placed in between these two columns. Such a formation was deep, could form two fronts and could be quickly turned into a classic battle line. Derouaux. W.: L'ordre de marche de Crassus le jour de la bataille de Carrhes, LEC 11, 1942, p. 157–164 and Černý, J.: op. cit., p. 78 agree with this opinion and it is also mentioned by Marshall, B. A.: op. cit., p. 157 note 87 (following W. Derouaux here).  Another possible interpretation, which is also very close to the last one, is that Crassus might have opted for some variant of Roman defensive marching formation as described by Polybius (VI. 40; see also Caes. B.G. IV. 14; Tac. Ann. XIII. 40), ie. three compact parallel marching columns. Such a formation has essentially the same advantages as that of Lammert, ie. deep formation that can have two fronts and can turn quickly into a classic triple battle line. The latter two versions seem most probable, but all of these assumptions are speculative. The whole passage is ambiguous and a reliable conclusion cannot be reached in this case.

Crassův šik podle Groebeho Crassus formation according to Groebe.
Taken from Drumann, W. – Groebe, P.: Geschichte Roms 4. band, Leipzig, 1908.

Crassus formation according to Lammert Crassus formation according to Lammert
Taken from Lammert, F.: Die römische Taktik zu Beginn der Kaiserzeit und die Geschichtsschreibung, Philologus, Supplementband XXII, Heft II, Leipzig.1931.

Proposed formation Proposed formation of three columns
Black boxes represent legionary cohorts, black and white boxes represent cavalry, baggage train and light infantry are between the columns.

51. Černý, J.: op. cit., p. 74–78.

52. Plut. Crassus 23. Southern direction: Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 381, 384. Some scholars believe that the Roman army crossed the Balissus river: Mommsen, T.: Römische Geschichte III, Berlin, 1889, p. 344; Schneiderwirth, J. H.: op. cit., p. 58; August, B.: op. cit., p. 34–38; Бокщанин, Г.А.: op. cit., p. 47; Tucci, J. M.: The Battle of Carrhae: the effects of a military disaster on the Roman Empire (MA thesis), University of Missouri-Columbia, 1992, p. 35; it seems that Sampson, G.: op. cit., s. 113, 124 thinks the same. The sources do not claim or indicate this, however.

53. Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 382.

54. Plut. Crassus 23; Cass. Dio XL. 21.

55. Plut. Crassus 23–24.

56. Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 118–119; Bivar, A. H. D.: The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids, in: The Cambridge History of Iran 3/1, New York, 1983, p. 52; Никоноров, В. П.: К вопросу о парфянской тактике (на примере битвы при Каррах), in: Военное дело и средневековая археология Центральной Азии, Kemerovo, 1995, p. 54; Shapur Shahbazi, A.: Carrhae, Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, 15. 12. 1990,; Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 607–608 writes 10000 light a 1000 heavy horsemen, the same Tucci, J. M.: op. cit., p. 35 and Farrokh, K.: Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Oxford/New York, 2007, p. 136.

57. Plut. Crassus 21.

58. Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p 608 and Никоноров, В. П.: op. cit., p. 54 noted the same before. Sillaces was defeated with a few soldiers by Crassus the previous year, but nowhere there is any mention that his whole army was destroyed and moreover we do not know if all soldiers he could have had at his disposal took part in this battle.

59. Plutarch (Crassus 23) writes that the scouts reported to Crassus, that the Parthian army is "very large" (πλήθει πολλῷ καὶ θάρσει τοὺς ἄνδρας). Velleius Paterculus (II. 46) writes that the Romans were surrounded by "a great multitude of horsemen" (immanibus copiis equitum). However, it is difficult to say to what extent is this a fair assessment of the strength of the Parthian army and to what extent it is only a dramatic literary instrument.

60. Although a passage in Plut. Lucullus 28 about Median heavy cavalrymen could indicate, that at this time they did not carry additional weapons.

61. About Parthian warfare see: Rawlinson, G.: op. cit., 1873, p. 402–411; Wilcox, P.: Rome's Enemies 3, Parthians and Sassanid Persians, Oxford, 2001; Farrokh, K.: op. cit., p. 131–135; Goldsworthy, A. K.: The Roman Army at War 100 BC-AD 200, Oxford, 1998, p. 60–68; Mielczarek, M.: Die parthische Panzerreiterei bei Carrhae. Aus den Studien über Plutarchus, Crassus XXIV-XXVII, Fasciculi Archaeologiae Historicae 4, 1988, p. 31–38; idem: Cataphracti and Clibanarii: Studies on the Heavy Armoured Cavalry of the Ancient World, Łódź, 1993, p. 51–64; Никоноров, В. П.: op. cit.; Olbrycht, M. J.: Parthia and Nomads of Central Asia. Elements of Steppe Origin in the Social and Military Developments of Arsacid Iran, in: Schneider, I. (ed.), Mitteilungen des SFB „Differenz und Integration“ 5: Militär und Staatlichkeit, Halle/Saale, 2003, p. 69–109; Shapur Shahbazi, A.: Army i. Pre-Islamic Iran, Encyclopaedia Iranica Online,

62. The fact that the whole Parthian army fighting Crassus was made up by cavalry might have partially been caused also by the intention of Orodes to take as many foot soldiers as possible for his invasion of mountainous Armenia, where the usage of cavalry would be very limited. Rawlinson, G.: op. cit., 1873, p. 159–160.

63. Iust. XLI. 3.

64. Bivar, A. H. D.: op. cit., 2007, p. 29; Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 281, 283–285; Wilcox, P.: op. cit., p. 18.

65. Plut. Crassus 24. Plutarch writes that the Parthians surrounded the Roman quadrangle on all sides, but in another passage (Crassus 25) he notes, that Publius Crassus was later ordered to attack at a moment when there was danger of his flank being encircled – so the Roman army was not completely surrounded at this moment and the statements contradict each other. Given that the Parthian army was probably significantly smaller than the Roman army, it is unlikely that the Parthians would be able so quickly and easily surround the Romans on all sides. Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 383 and Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 609 and Brizzi, G.: Il guerriero, l'oplita, il legionario: gli eserciti nel mondo classico, Bologna, 2002, p. 158 claim that the left flank of the Roman formation was protected by the river, which prevented its encirclement. Nevertheless there is no mention about this in our sources and it seems probable that the historians would note such an important detail. The river was probably not very far away, but the Roman battle line apparently was not protected by it, as the information about envelopments indicate.

66. Plut. Crassus 24.

67. Coulston, J. C. N.: Roman Archery Equipment, in: Bishop, M. C. (ed.), The Production and Distribution of Roman Military Equipment. Proceedings of the Second Roman Military Equipment Research Seminar, BAR International Series 275, Oxford, 1985, s. 292. O některých starověkých uměleckých znázorněních tohoto způsobu boje pojednal Rostovtzeff, M.: The Parthian Shot, AJA 47/2, 1943, s. 174–187.

68. Plut. Crassus 24; Cass. Dio XL. 22.

69. Plut. Crassus 25. Bivar, A. H. D.: op. cit., 1983, p. 52; Shapur Shahbazi, A.: Carrhae; Tarn, W. W.: op. cit., p. 607 a Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 120, 121 are not right when claiming that there were 1000 camels. In fact we do not know the exact number of camels carrying arrows in the battle. Plutarch says "many camels" (πολλαὶ κάμηλοι). The figure of 1000 camels is mentioned before as a part of Surenas usual travel entourage (Plut. Crassus 21), that carries his personal baggage. Again, however, just like with the other information about Surenas usual entourage, we cannot simply apply these details on the battle itself.

70. Plut. Crassus 25. Cassius Dio (XL. 21) claims, that the charge of Publius Crassus took place immediately at the beginning of the battle, but (as mentioned above), his report is less reliable than that of Plutarch, and therefore we tend to prefer Plutarch's version. South-western direction: Regling, K.: op. cit., 1907, p. 384.Brizzi, G.: Note sulla battaglia di Carre, in: Studi militari romani, Bologna, 1983, p. 20–22 and idem: op. cit., 2002, p. 158–159 means that Publius Crassus' objective was to push the Parthians farther from the main Roman formation, so that it could be transformed into a testudo, which would better protect the soldiers from Parthian arrows. But this is not very probable. Our sources nowhere mention the testudo formation. Moreover after the creation of this very dense tortoise formation, it would only hardly be possible to receive the regiments of young Crassus back into the main formation and provide them the same protection.

71. Plut. Crassus 26.

72. Plut. Crassus 25.

73. Ibid.

74. Plut. Crassus 26.

75. Plut. Crassus 26–27.

76. Cass. Dio XL. 23.

77. As indicated by Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 136 also 122–123.

78. We know from Plutarch (Crassus 31) that during the Roman retreat to Syria Arabs were chasing scattered bands of Romans, whereas before he talked about Abgar (Ariamnes) as an Arabian chieftain (Crassus 21).

79. Plut. Crassus 27.

80. Plut. Crassus 27, 29; Cass. Dio XL. 24.

81. Plut. Crassus 27.

82. Ibid.

83. Plut. Crassus 28; Cass. Dio XL. 25.

84. Plut. Crassus 28; Oros. VI. 13.

85. Plut. Crassus 28–29; deficiencies of the Parthians in the art of besieging: Iust. XLI. 2; Tac. Ann.XII. 45, XV. 4; Cass. Dio XL. 29; Lucan. Phars.VIII. 377–378.

86. According to K. Regling: op. cit., 1907, p. 388–389 the stay of the Romans in Carrhae lasted for 2–5 days, see also Groebe, P.: op. cit.

87. Cass. Dio XL. 25.

88. Regling, K. op. cit., 1907, p. 388. For a night march the terrain was very difficult and with many obstacles in this case, see Günther, A.: op. cit., p. 35 note 1.

89. Cass. Dio XL. 25.

90. Plut. Crassus 29; Nicol. Damasc. frg. 88 (v Müller: FGH III, 148).

91. Plut. Crassus 29; Cass. Dio XL. 25.

92. Plut. Crassus 29.

93. Cass. Dio XL. 26; Plut. Crassus 30–31; Polyaen. VII. 41; Oros. VI. 13; Florus I. 46; Festus 17; Liv. Periochae 106; Strabo XVI. 1. 23. Keaveney, A.: op. cit., 1982, p. 425–426 thinks, that the Parthians may have meant the peace offer honestly and it did not have necessarily had to be a trap.

94. Plut. Crassus 31; Polyaen. VII. 41. Florus I. 46; Cass. Dio XL. 27; Festus 17; Strabo XVI.  23. Servilius Verg. Aen. VII. 606 even claims that Crassus was captured alive and then killed by pouring of melted gold into his mouth, but this is certainly erroneous report, just like Zosimos' (III. 32) claim, that Crassus was captured alive.

95. Plut. Crassus 31. Cassius Dio XL. 27, however, claims that the majority of these soldiers saved themselves.

96. The scenes of Crassus' head used in Euripides' tragedy and pouring of melted gold into his mouth are probably made up, though. For more details see Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 82–94.

97. Plut. Crassus 32.

98. Horac. Carm.III. 5. 5; Florus II. 20; Vell. Pater. II. 82; Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 182–185.

99. Plut. Crassus 33.

100. The claim of G. C. Sampson, op. cit., p. 135 that at this time Crassus had at his disposal only around a half of Roman soldiers is certainly incorrect. Given that 10000 soldiers escaped, 10000 of them were taken prisoners and in the whole battle 20000 soldiers died, it would mean that all Roman casualties occurred during the battle and that no Roman soldiers were killed during the subsequent retreat to Carrhae and Syria. This, however, contradicts our sources. As will be show below, in fact a large part of Roman casualties happened just during the retreat back on the Roman territories. It is also necessary to realise, that into captivity fell the Roman soldiers mostly during the withdrawal. From the reports of ancient historians we know that in the course of battle only some 500 men were captured in the sortie of Publius Crassus (Plut. Crassus 25). In the preceding and subsequent phases of battle there were not many opportunities during shooting and heavy cavalry charges to take prisoners. Apart from those 500 men almost all others from the reported 10000 prisoners must therefore have been captured during the unfortunate retreat after the battle. After all, Sampson himself is very well aware of the important role the retreats from the battlefield played in making the Roman tragedy even more catastrophic (see pages 138, 145, 147).

101. As mentioned before, almost all of the 10000 prisoners were captured during retreat (see note 100). From our sources we know that during marches to Carrhae and then farther to territories under Roman control apparently more than 8800 men were killed by the Parthians (detailed analysis is below). It means that from some 30000 killed and captured Romans probably more than 18000 were killed or captured after the end of the battle itself.

102. Cass. Dio XL. 17–19; Plut. Crassus 19, 23; Florus I. 46; Obseq. 64; Vell. Pater. II. 46. 2; Appian. B.C. II. 18; Eutrop. VI. 18; Serv. Verg. Aen. VII. 606; Seneca Quaest. nat. V. 18. 10; Val. Max. I. 6. 11.

103. Especially Černý, J.: op. cit., p. 50–55, 58–63, 104 stresses the underestimating and contempt for the enemy.

104. About the advantages and usefulness of temporary camps see: Caes. B.C. I.82; Veg. I.21; Onas. 8; Polyb. VI. 42.

105. Cass. Dio XXXVI. 49; Plut. Lucullus 26–28.

106. Plut. Crassus 18.

107. Especially Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit., p. 29–49.

108. Austin, N. J. E. – Rankov, N. B.: Exploratio: Military and Political Intelligence in the Roman World from the Second Punic War to the Battle of Adrianople, New York/London, 1995, p. 21–25, 81–83, 89–91, 95–107.

109. Plut. Crassus 25.

110. According to our sources all of the mentioned chieftains betrayed Crassus at last. It is certainly error of the general if he relies on unreliable allies. On the other hand, Abgar for example was a proven and reliable friend of Pompey before and Crassus had no reason to question his loyalty.

111. For example Cicero during his governorship of Cilicia and during the Parthian incursion into the Roman eastern territories mentions in one of his letters that he acquired information about the Parthian army from Antiochus of Commagene (Cic. Ad fam. XV. 3). For more details about reports, which has Cicero been receiving before and during the Parthian invasion from allied rulers see Austin, N. J. E. – Rankov, N. B.: op. cit., p. 102–107; Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit., p. 50–55.

112. Parthian infantry is mentioned also in Cass. Dio XL. 15 and Chron. Arb. 3. Infantry soldier is depicted on a Parthian relief from the Zahak castle. Infantry troops may also have been provided for the Parthian army by its allies.

113. Brizzi, G.: op. cit., 2002, p. 163–164.

114. See also Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit. , p. 42 and Brizzi, G.: op. cit. p, 1983, p. 23.

115. Sampson, G.: op. cit., p. 148–151; Timpe, D.: Die Bedeutung der Schlacht von Carrhae, Museum Helveticum 19, 1962, p. 108–111; Dobiáš, J.: op. cit., s. 132–133.

116. About Parthian invasion of Syria see Dobiáš, J.: op. cit., s. 134–147; Debevoise, N. C.: op. cit., p. 96–104; Sampson, G.: op. cit., p. 154–165; Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit., p. 50–56.

117. Excerpts from Cicero's letters with a commentary on the situation offers Sampson, G.: op. cit., p. 161–165.

118. Malitz, J.: Caesars Partherkrieg, Historia 33, 1984, p. 21–59.

119. Detailed studies of immediate Roman reactions on the defeat by Carrhae: Timpe, D.: op. cit.and Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 94–110. For Augustus' boasting for getting Roman military standards back from the Parthians see Res gestae 29. The motive of returning of military standards appears also on the famous armour of the statue of Augustus from Prima Porta. Also coins were issued with the legend "signis receptis" (standards recovered). About the propaganda of Augustan poets see Merriam, C. U.: Either With Us Or Against Us: The Parthians in Augustan Ideology, Scholia 13, 2004, p. 56–70. About diplomatic negotiations of Augustus with the Parthians see Campbel, J. B.: War and diplomacy: Rome and Parthia, 31 BC-AD 235, in: Rich, J. – Shipley, G.: War and Society in the Roman World, London/New York, 2002, p. 220–229; Marek, V.: Parthové a Řím v době Augustově, Acta FF ZČU 1, 2009, p. 127–144.

120. For analysis of passages about Crassus and battle of Carrhae in ancient sources see Weggen, K.: op. cit., p. 119–263.

121. Plut. Crassus 24: καὶ παρεῖχον ἀκοσμίας ἀρχὴν καὶ δέους ὁρῶσι τὴν ῥύμην τῶν ὀιστῶν καὶ τὸν τόνον, ὅπλα τε ῥηγνύντων καὶ διὰ παντὸς φερομένων ὁμοίως ἀντιτύπου καὶ μαλακοῦ στεγάσματος. See also Plut. Crassus 21.

122. Cass. Dio XL. 22: ἔς τε γὰρ τοὺς ὀφθαλμούς σφων ἐσπετόμενα, καὶ πρὸς τὰς χεῖρας, τό τε ἄλλο σῶμα πᾶν, καὶ διὰ τῶν ὅπλων χωροῦντα· τήν τε προφυλακὴν αὐτῶν ἀφῃρεῖτο, καὶ γυμνοῦσθαί σφας πρὸς τὸ ἀεὶ τιτρῶσκον ἠνάγκαζεν...

123. Rawlinson, G.: op. cit., 1873, p. 165; Schneiderwirth, J. H.: op. cit., p. 61; Debevois, N. C.: op. cit., p. 86; Medinger, P.: L'arc turquois et les archers parthes à la bataille de Carrhes, Revue Archéologique 6/2, 1933, p. 227–234; Bivar, A. D. H.: op. cit., 1983, p. 152; Shapur Shahbazi, A.: Carrhae; Tucci, J. M.: op. cit., p. 21, 36; Marshall, B. A.: op. cit., p. 158; Černý, J.: op. cit., p. 86; Wilcox, P.: op. cit., p.  20; Farrokh, K.: op. cit., p. 133, 138; Sheldon, R. M.: op. cit., p. 34, 36; Brizzi, G.: op. cit., 2002, p. 162 and partially also idem: op. cit., 1983, p. 17.

124. Sampson, G. C.: op. cit., p. 119–120. But it is highly unlikely that Surenas would be performing any experiments with the construction of bows and arrows and then rearming the whole Parthian army in the last moments before the invasion. Moreover it is strange, that such powerful missiles would be used in one battle only and never again in the future (see notes 138 and 139).

125. Bergman, C. A. – McEwen, E. – Miller, R.: Experimental archery: Projectile velocities and comparison of bow performances, Antiquity 62, 1988, p. 658–670.

126. Brown, F. E.: A recently discovered composite bow, Seminarium Kondakovianum 9, 1937, p. 1–10.

127. Coulston, J. C. N.: op. cit., 1985, p. 242; Junkelmann, M.: Die Reiter Roms III: Zubehör, Reitweise, Bewaffnung, Mainz, 1996, p. 163.

128. Plut. Crassus 25.

129. Junkelmann, M.: op. cit., p. 171.

130. According to P. Mediger: op. cit., p. 232 a shot from a similar type of bow allegedly penetrated a 3 mm thick bronze plate at a distance of 30–40 meters, but no details about the test and about the used bow and arrows are available.

131. Metz, K. S. – Gabriel, R. A.: op. cit., p. 66–74; Junkelmann, M.: op. cit., p. 171–173; Goldsworthy, A. K.: op. cit., p. 185–190. Similar conclusions draws P. H. Blyth in his dissertation focused on Greek-Persian wars: Blyth, P. H.: The Effectiveness of Greek Armour Against Arrows in the Persian War (490 – 479 B. C.): An Interdisciplinary Enquiry (dissertation), University of Reading, 1977.

132. Howard, D.: Mail: Unchained, URL: (retrieved 6. 8. 2011) – see part Weapons vs. Mail.

133. Estimates of the effective and maximum range of bows vary greatly, see McLeod, W.: The Range of the Ancient Bow, Phoenix 19/1, 1965, p. 1–14; idem: The Range of the Ancient Bow: Addenda, Phoenix 26/1, 1972, p. 78–82; Goldsworthy, A. K.: op. cit., 1998, p. 184; Metz, K. S. – Gabriel, R. A.: op. cit., p. 70; Coulston, J. C. N.: op. cit., 1985, p. 290–291. There are many reasons for this. The exact type and manufacture of the bow, types and manufacture of arrows, skill of the archers, etc., all are important.

134. Plut. Crassus 26.

135. Cass. Dio XL. 23: Τό τε καῦμα καὶ τὸ δίψος, (μεσοῦντός τε γὰρ τοῦ θέρους καὶ ἐν μεσημβρίᾳ ταῦτ' ἐγίγνετο) καὶ ὁ κονιορτός (ὅπως γὰρ ὅτι πλεῖστος αἴροιτο, πάντες σφᾶς οἱ βάρβαροι περιίππευον) δεινῶς τοὺς λοιποὺς συνῄρει, καὶ συχνοὶ καὶ ὑπὸ τούτων ἄτρωτοι ἔπεσον.

136. Mommsen, T.: op. cit., p. 345 and Günther, A.: op. cit., p. 29 claim that approximately around noon the army only arrived by Balissus. Sampson, G.: op. cit., s. 124 believes, that the Romans approached the river first in the afternoon. None of them, however, provides any reasoning behind the opinion.

137. Cass. Dio XL. 24; Plut. Crassus 27.

138. Plut. Crassus 31; Appian. B.C. II. 18, 49.

139. Plut. Crassus 28.

140. Plut. Crassus 29; Cass. Dio XL. 27.

141. Plutarch and Cassius Dio write about the Parthians hunting down and killing or capturing scattered bands of the Romans on their way to Carrhae and then from Carrhae to Armenia/Syria: Plut. Crassus 28; Cass. Dio XL. 25.

142. Plut. Crassus 25.

143. Plut. Crassus 28.

144. Metz, K. S. – Gabriel, R. A.: op. cit., p. 81–91.

145. During the Parthian wars of Marc Antony in one of hard-fought battles in which the Parthians again used their archery skills and again were able to surround the Romans from a large part (ie. the battle had basically similar parameters as that of Carrhae), at last 3000 soldiers were killed and 5000 were wounded, see Plut. Antonius 42–43. Should we use the same ratio for the battle of Carrhae, we would get 2400 dead. This would mean that there were 6400 dead and seriously wounded soldiers. Similar estimate of the number of casualties in the main battle proposed A. Günter: op. cit., p. 36 note 3 – he states 6–7000 dead and wounded soldiers (2–3000 dead and 4000 wounded, who were then slaugthered by the Parthians in the morning of the next day).

146. Cass. Dio XL. 25.

147. Metz, K. S. – Gabriel, R. A.: op. cit., p. 96–99.

148. See above.

149. Unfortunately, no source preserved accurate information about how many arrows would a Parthian archer usually carry with him. We know that Sassanian archers carried 30 arrows in their quivers (Bivar, A. D. H.: Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier, DOP 26, 1972, s. 276), Maurice's Strategikon (XII B 5. 1–3) informs us, that the late Romans should have carried 30–40 arrows, Farrokh, K.: op. cit., p. 133 estimates 30 arrows, Cernenko, E. V. a Gorelik, M. V.: The Scythians, 700–300 BC, London, 1991, p. 12 estimate that the Scythians could have carried any number between 30 and 150 arrows into battle. The reference to the Scythians is not accidental, according to Justin XLI. 2 the equipment of the Parthians and the Scythians was in many respects the same/similar, see also Plut. Crassus 24 about Scythian hairstyle of Parthian soldiers. About a nomadic (Scythian) nature of Parthian warfare see Olbrycht, M. J.: op. cit., 2003. We must also remember that a significant part of the Parthian army at Carrhae might have been provided by the Sakas.

150. See below note 151 .

151. Farrokh, K.: op. cit., p. 133. Farrokh calculates, that an experienced archer is able to shoot 8–10 arrows per minute. But in his calculation the time needed for ammunition replenishment by the camels is not included, and moreover all the soldiers would probably not be able to keep the maximum frequency of firing for all 20 minutes because of fatigue and other factors. Nevertheless they did not have to. As we have seen, they had enough time for shooting. During several hours (perhaps up to 7) the Parthians were certainly able to launch a huge number of arrows.

152. Front. Strat.II. 3. 15; see also Cass. Dio XLIX. 29–30; Plut. Antonius 45.

153. Plut. Antonius 49. In one part of his Commentaries Caesar (B. C. III. 53) mentions the centurion Scaeva, who reportedly found 120 holes from arrows in his shield after a fierce archery attack on one fort at Dyrrhachium during the Civil Wars. The centurion survived and was endowed and promoted for his bravery. This story once again shows, that shields were usually strong enough to stop arrows.

154. Goldsworthy, A. K.: op. cit., p. 188–190, 242–244.

Back to the main article

Updated 16. 10. 2015 – information about the relief from the Zahak castle added
Updated 13. 11. 2011 – some parts added and changed
Released 18. 6. 2011