#CLST6 #CYO3 #Identity Today, I watched a lecture on the tradition of Rome and Parthia's rivalry by Dr. Nikolaus L. Overtoom. He began by discussing an important topic - orientalism (or the representation of Asia/Middle East in a stereotyped way).
One of his goals in researching Parthia and writing his book "Reign of Arrows," was to combat the harmful effects of orientalism and broaden the view of Ancient Parthia. He wanted to quell the idea of Greco-Roman superiority (1).
After this brief discussion, he began his lecture. Interactions between Rome and Parthia began in the 90s BC. Both Rome and Parthia wanted to expand their empires. No formal conflict began until 56 BC with the start of the Parthian civil war.
Two brothers emerged as the leading sides of the civil war. While Rome did not send any troops, they did take a side. The brother that Rome supported loses and tensions between the Parthians and the Romans rise. This inspires the first Roman invasion (2).
The first Roman invasion is led by a general by the name of Marcus Licinius Crassus in 53 BC. He takes a force of about 45K infantrymen and marches them into Parthia. The Parthian general, Surena, meets Crassus at Carrhae with about 10K cavalrymen (3). (pictured is Crassus)
Crassus suffers a disastrous loss and loses 30k men, dying in the process. This decisive defeat at the hands of the Parthians damaged the Roman Ego (4). The Roman determination for world conquest was foiled by the Parthians and the Roman goal of conquering them begins in earnest.
The desire to conquer Parthia remained for hundreds of years. Each successive Roman emperor wished to achieve world domination. Parthia was a major obstacle in this plan. Julius Caesar, for example, created a full plan to take over Parthia before his assassination 44 BC (5).
Caesar's successor, Augustus, also focused his efforts on Parthia. While he did not wage war, he employed propaganda to threaten an invasion. He also portrayed his peace treaty with Parthia in 1 CE as a great military victory (6).
In this treaty, Parthia agreed to return taken Roman standards to Augustus as an act of good will. Augustus portrayed this diplomatic interaction as proof of his superiority over Parthia. He attempted to show that he had contributed towards the Roman goal of Parthian conquest.
Augustus further attempted to prove his victory by constructing a great arch, showing captured Parthian soldiers. His supposed victory led the Romans to hold Augustus in very high regard. (Image shows a depiction of the arch on a coin made in 19BC).
Subsequent emperors attempted to follow in Augustus' footsteps and win victories over Parthia. Nero, in 58 CE, began a war with the Parthians over the land of Armenia. His victory in that war allowed him to compare himself to the "great emperor" Augustus.
Nero also built a Parthian arch to show his success in working towards the Roman goal. He included a "statuary group of Nero in his triumphal quadriga, accompanied by Peace and Victory" (7). (Image shows a depiction of the arch on a sestertius made in 64 CE).
Even after the fall of the Parthian empire in 226 CE, the Romans did not give up their obsession with the Parthian people. They viewed the new Persian empire as a continuation of the Parthians. Prof. Overtoom discusses how Roman writers used Parthian/Persian interchangeably (8).
This shows how their view of the people did not change. They still represented an obstacle in their path. Dr. Overtoom cites the ancient author Sidonius as he talks about his disappointment in the Romans' inability to conquer Parthia. This writing was made in 458 CE. (9).
The Roman goal of complete control in the Middle-East spans from 53 BC all the way to 458 CE. The rivalry between the Romans and the Parthians is hugely important in their development as nations. Their parallel goals of conquest spurred their continuous opposition.
Thank you to Dr. Overtoom and the The Study of Antiquity and the Middle Ages for this video:

1-6) Info from the lecture in the linked video
7) “A History of Roman Art” by Fred S. Kleiner (pg. 146).
8-9) Info from the lecture in the linked video
First image:
Second Image: https://www.armstrongeconomics.com/research/monetary-history-of-the-world/roman-empire/chronology_-by_-emperor/roman-republic-imperators/crassus-44bc/
Third image: “A History of Roman Art” by Fred S. Kleiner (fig. 6-5)
Fourth image: Roman Art (fig 9-21)
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