Carrhae 53 BC – Rome’s Disaster in the Desert, Nic Fields

Carrhae 53 BC – Rome’s Disaster in the Desert, Nic Fields


The battle of Carrhae was one of the costliest defeats suffered by the Roman Republic and saw an army led by the Triumvar Crassus defeated and almost entirely destroyed during an unprovoked invasion of Parthia.

We start with a lengthy biography of Crassus, the Roman leader whose desire for military glory led to the entire campaign and the crushing defeat at Carrhae. We don’t get as much detail on the victor, Surena, partly because less is known about him, and partly because his known career was very short, only covering two years.

I like the author’s approach to the section on Crassus’ army. Rather than repeating very familiar ground by describing the nature of the late Republican Roman army instead he focuses on the actual army that fought at the battle. There are issues with the size of his army, number of legions and cohorts and where his recruits came from. On the Parthian side the focus is more on what type of troops they had, comparing the very light horse archers with the heavily armoured cataphracts. There is also a section looking at the Parthian bow, which played such a major part in their victory.

The account of the battle itself is fairly short, but then it was a fairly simple and well known battle – the Roman infantry formed a square, was pounded by archery, an attempt to use their Gallic cavalry to break out ended in disaster and the survivors only managed to escape after dark, when the Parthians withdrew.

We then get a good section on the aftermath and an analysis of why the campaign went the way it did. The aftermath section goes on for some time, covering Mark Anthony’s failed invasion and events up to Augustus and the recovery of the Eagles lost at Carrhae, giving a more complete picture of this early stage of relations between Parthia and Rome.

Origins of the Campaign
Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces
The Background to War
The Battle of Carrhae

Author: Nic Fields
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2022

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