The Defeat Of Rome In The East by Gareth C. Sampson

Book Review by caldrail

The age of the Late Roman Republic is stained with the reputation of conquest. To the casual observer SPQR expands relentlessly at the sharp edge of a sword as the Roman military machine tramples or sweeps aside anyone who opposes their ambition. That concept of military glory is difficult for us to set aside. There is a struggle to be objective about this era because many of us dearly want those images to be true. Yet the truth, largely forgotten or conveniently ignored, is that the much vaunted Roman legions lost battles almost as often as anyone else.

This volume deals with one such defeat at Carrhae in 53BC, on the eastern frontier of Rome's inflating empire. As the author points out, not only was the Battle of Carrhae one of the most significant, it's also one of the most ignored, simply because it was far from home while everyone's attention was fixated on events in the west or at home, yet history has shown that any major military defeat of Rome's legions has implications that can last to the modern day.

Then again, notice how it's the Romans that demand attention. In order to lose a battle you need to fight someone else, and whilst the Romans fought each other readily, on this occasion they chose to fight the Parthians. Therefore I was pleased to see that the author has described their enemy, and indeed, he set out to do so deliberately. Events leading toward the battle, during the battle, and afterward are covered for both sides with equal examination. The lives and characters of the two enemy leaders, Crassus and Surena, are discussed in the context of political rivalries that compelled both empires to face off in the deserts of the Middle East.

There is an enviable attention to detail pervading the two hundred pages written in a very straightforward style, and the author has gone a long way towards investigating some of the popular myths surrounding Carrhae. “The Defeat Of Rome” follows the conventions of this publisher’s books with a modest number of pertinent diagrams and a collection of photographs to supplement the text. It evaluates the surviving accounts and mentions those now lost.

What you won't find is any emphasis on armour and equipment, or endless comparisons of military organisation. Neither does the author leave any impression of what sort of environment these men fought in. These things were transitory in reflection, for what mattered was what the battle stood for, and what was gained or lost by the result. If you think you already know, think again. That is basically where this book slips under radar.

All too often we accept the first lesson in history and repeat it parrot fashion from then on. Sometimes we have the wisdom to listen to what other people say. The value of opinion is as good as interpretation and the solidity of its evidence. Is “The Defeat Of Rome” so valuable? You might want to find out.

...in the end, the great bulk of the Roman army was hunted down and killed or captured. Nearly 20,000 were killed and another 10,000 captured. Of the original force, only about 5,000 men under Cassius, and the cavalry that departed early, managed to escape. The Parthians meanwhile, settled the Roman prisoners in an eastern territory called Sogdia. Interestingly, the Han Chinese later captured this area and the Roman transplants were likely among the first westerners to meet the Chinese directly. ....from The Battle of Carrhae

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