Rome & Parthia: Empires at War: Ventidus, Antony and the Second Romano-Parthian War 40-20 BC, Gareth C. Sampson

Rome & Parthia: Empires at War: Ventidus, Antony and the Second Romano-Parthian War 40-20 BC, Gareth C. Sampson

The outbreak of this second Parthian War was closely tied to the events of the Roman civil wars. After defeating the triumvir Crassus at Carrhae, the Parthians had sided with Pompey, and later probably sent a contribution to the army of the Liberators that was defeated at Philippi. It was only after the defeat of the anti-Caesarian faction that the Parthians decided to invade the Roman east, triggering twenty years of intermittent warfare. This is a war without any really famous battles, but there was plenty of military activity, with regular swings of fortune and plenty of drama in its first ten years.

Mark Antony doesn’t emerge particually well as a general – he emerged as the victor of the Philippi campaign, but this was the high point of his military career. As the new ruler of the eastern half of the Roman Empire his absence in Egypt appears to have encouraged the Parthians to invade Roman Syria. Antony performed poorly during the resulting war, suffering a major defeat when he attempted to invade that empire, and failing to take other chances to defeat a much weakened Parthia. His poor performance in the aftermath of the naval defeat at Actium thus rather fits into a pattern rather than being an aberration. However some of his subordinates were more capable, so we learn about the victorious campaigns of Ventidus, which restored the situation after the initial Parthian invasions, but which also appear to have ended Ventidus’s own career, making him too dangerous a rival for Antony to risk employing him again.

It is fascinating to read an account of Antony’s time in the east that concentrates on events in that area, rather than seeing it from the perspective of the city of Rome.  As a result we get more understanding of how his freedom of action against Parthia was limited by affairs in Italy, which was still officially where his authority came from, and where he was drawn into two minor civil wars against Augustus before the final clash (although even from this perspective Antony’s decision to split Rome’s eastern empire between Cleopatra’s children comes across as almost inexplicable).

The big problem faced by the author is that no Parthian sources have survived, so we only have mentions from Roman sources. To make things worse a whole series of the ancient histories of Parthian that we know were produced haven’t survived, so we don’t even have much of that Roman evidence. Even the Roman side isn’t well served, as the surviving histories were written after Octavius had won the civil wars, so rarely flatter Antony. However the authors appear to have done a good job of balancing the limited sources, and have produced a convincing reconstruction of the Parthian side of events.

This is an excellent account of this relatively unfamiliar war, combined with a useful history of the Roman East in troubled times.

Part I: The Rise of the New World Order (to 44 BC)
1 – The Rise of the New World Order; Rome and Parthia (to 50 BC)
2 – The Cold War: Parthia and the Roman Civil War (50-44 BC)

Part II: The Rise and Fall of Parthia (44-38 BC)
3 – Civil War and the Romano-Parthian Conquest of the East
4 – From the Ashes; Ventidus and the Roman Recovery (39 BC)
5 – The Battle of Gindarius and the Collapse of Parthia (38 BC)

Part III: The Rise and Fall of Rome (38-36 BC)
6 – Roman Consolidate in the East; Judea and Armenia (38-37 BC)
7 – The Roman Invasion of the Parthian Empire I (The Invasion)
8 – The Roman Invasion of the Parthian Empire II (The Retreat)

Part IV: Stalemate (36-30 BC)
9 – Consolidation and Civil War (36-35 BC)
10 – The Rise and Fall of the Antonine Empire (34-30 BC)

Part V: Waiting for Augustus (30-20 BC)
11 – Waiting for Augustus (30-20 BC)

Author: Gareth C. Sampson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 224
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2020

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