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the wish of his country, as they heard, had brought arms against the
Parthians and occupied territory for his private profit, Arsakes would
act with moderation, and would take pity on the old age of Crassus,
and give up to the Romans the men whom he had in his power, and who
were rather under guard themselves than keeping guard over others.
Crassus haughtily replied, that he would give an answer in Seleukeia;
on which Vagises, the oldest of the ambassadors, smiled, and, showing
the palm of his hand, said, "From here, Crassus, hair will grow before
you see Seleukeia." The ambassadors now returned to Hyrodes, to inform
him that he must be ready for war. From the cities of Mesopotamia, in
which there were Roman garrisons, some soldiers, who made their escape
at great hazard, brought reports that caused much anxiety, having been
eye-witnesses of the numbers of the enemy, and of their mode of
attacking the cities; and, as is usual, they magnified everything
which they reported. "When the enemy pursued," they said, "no man
could escape from them, and when they fled, they could not be
overtaken; that strange missiles preceded the appearance of the enemy,
and before one could see who sent them, they pierced through
everything that they struck; and as to the arms of the mailed[61]
soldiers, some were made to push through every obstacle, and others to
give way to nothing." When the soldiers heard this their courage sank;
for they had been led to believe that the Parthians did not differ at
all from the Armenians and Cappadocians, whom Lucullus plundered and
robbed till he was weary, and they thought that the hardest part of
the war would be a long march, and the pursuit of men who would not
come to close quarters; but now, contrary to their hopes, they were in
expectation of a contest and great danger, so that some of the
officers thought that Crassus ought to stop, and again submit to their
deliberation the general state of affairs. Among these was Cassius[62]
the quæstor. The seers, also, in gentle terms showed that bad and
unfavourable signs were always prognosticated to Crassus by the
victims. But Crassus paid no attention to them, nor to those who
advised anything else except to move on.

XIX. But Crassus was in no small degree encouraged by Artabazes[63]
the king of the Armenians, who came to the camp with six thousand
horsemen. These were said to be the guards and attendants of the king;
and he promised ten thousand men clothed in mail and thirty thousand
infantry, who were to be maintained at his own cost. He attempted to
persuade Crassus to invade Parthia through Armenia; for, he said, the
army would not only have abundance of provision in its march through
the country by reason of him supplying them, but would also advance
safely, having in their front many mountains and continuous hills, and
ground unfavourable for cavalry, in which alone lay the strength of
the Parthians. Crassus was well enough satisfied with the zeal of the
king and the splendour of the proffered aid; but he said he would
march through Mesopotamia, where he had left many brave Romans; upon
this the Armenian went away. As Crassus was taking his army over at
the Zeugma,[64] many extraordinary claps of thunder broke around, and
many flashes of lightning came right in front of the army; and a wind,
mingled with cloud and hurricane,[65] falling on the raft, broke up
and crushed to pieces a large part of it. The spot also, on which
Crassus intended to encamp, was struck with two thunderbolts.[66] A
horse, belonging to the general, which was caparisoned in splendid
style, violently dragged along the man who held the reins, and
plunging into the stream, disappeared. It is said also, that the first
eagle which was raised, turned round spontaneously. Added to this, it
happened that, as they were giving out the rations to the soldiers
after crossing the river, lentils and salt were given first, which the
Romans consider to be symbols of lamentation, and are accustomed to
place before the dead; and, as Crassus was haranguing the soldiers, an
expression escaped him which greatly alarmed the army. He said he
would destroy the raft over the river, that no one among them might
return; and though he ought, upon seeing the imprudence of his words,
to have recalled what he had said and explained it to the soldiers, he
neglected to do so, through his arrogant temper. Finally, when he was
offering the usual expiatory sacrifice, and the priest had put the
viscera into his hands, he threw them away, on which, observing that
the standers-by were greatly disturbed, he said with a smile, "Such is
old age; but no arms at least shall drop from its hands."

XX. After this he advanced along the river, with seven legions and
nearly four thousand horsemen, and almost as many light-armed troops
as horsemen. Some of the scouts now returned from their exploration
and reported that the country was clear of men, and that they had
fallen in with the tracks of many horses, which indicated that they
had turned about and were retreating. This gave Crassus still better
hopes, and made the soldiers completely despise the Parthians, who, as
they supposed, would not come to close quarters. However, Cassius
again had some conversation with Crassus, and advised him at least to
give his troops rest in some of the garrisoned cities, till he should
get some certain information about the enemy; but if he would not do
this, to advance towards Seleukeia along the river. He urged that the
boats which carried the provisions would furnish them with supplies by
stopping at the places of encampment, and that, by having the river as
a protection against being hemmed in by the enemy, they would always
be able to fight them on fair terms.

XXI. While Crassus was considering and reflecting on these matters,
there comes an Arab chieftain, Ariamnes[67] by name, a cunning and
faithless man, and of all the misfortunes that were by chance combined
to ruin the Romans the chief and crowning mischief. Some of them who
had served with Pompeius knew him as one who had received favours from
Pompeius, and was supposed to be a friend to the Romans; but he now
came to Crassus with a treacherous intent, and with the privity of the
royal generals, to try if he could draw him far away from the river
and the foot of the hills, into a boundless plain, where he might be
surrounded by the enemy; for nothing was further from the intentions
of the Parthians than to attack the Romans right in front.
Accordingly, the barbarian coming to Crassus (and he was a plausible
talker), spake in high terms of Pompeius as his benefactor, and
praised the force of Crassus; but he blamed him for his tardiness,
inasmuch as he was delaying and making preparation, as if he would
have occasion to employ arms instead of hands and the most active
feet, against an enemy who had long been trying to get together, as
quick as they could, their most valuable property and their best
slaves, and to move off to the Scythians or Hyrkanians. "And yet," he
said, "if you intend to fight, you ought to press on before the king
recovers his courage and all his forces are concentrated; for now
Surena and Sillakes have been thrown in your way to stand the attack,
and the king is no where to be seen." But all this was false. For
Hyrodes had at first divided his forces into two parts, and he was
himself ravaging Armenia to take vengeance on Artavasdes; but he sent
Surena against the Romans, not because he despised them, as some say,
for it was not consistent for him to disdain Crassus as an antagonist,
the first of the Romans, and to war against Artavasdes and take the
villages of Armenia; but it seems that he really feared the danger,
and that he was on the watch to await the result, and that he put
Surena in the front to try the fortune of a battle, and so to divert
the enemy. For Surena was no person of mean estate: in wealth, birth,
and consideration, he was next to the king; but, in courage and
ability, the first of the Parthians of his time; and, besides all
this, in stature and beauty of person he had no equal. He used always
to travel, when he was on his own business, with a thousand camels to
carry his baggage, and he had following him two hundred carriages for
concubines; and a thousand mailed horsemen, with a larger number of
light cavalry, escorted him; and he had in all, horsemen, clients,[68]
and slaves, no less than ten thousand. Now by hereditary right he had
the privilege of first placing the diadem on the head of him who
became king of the Parthians;[69] and this very Hyrodes, who had been
driven out, he restored to the Parthian empire, and took for him
Seleukeia the Great, being the first to mount the wall and to put to
flight with his own hand those who opposed him. Though he was not yet
thirty years of age at that time, he had the first reputation for
prudent counsel and judgment, by which qualities particularly he
caused the ruin of Crassus, who through his confidence and pride in
the first place, and next through his fears and his misfortunes,
became a most easy victim to fraud.

XXII. The barbarian, after persuading Crassus, drew him away from the
river, and led him through the plains by a track at first convenient
and easy, but which soon became toilsome; for it was succeeded by deep
sand, and plains treeless and waterless, not bounded in any direction
by any object that the eye could reach, so that, not only through
thirst and the difficulty of the march, was the army exhausted, but
even the aspect of all around caused the soldiers to despond past all
comfort, seeing neither plant, nor stream, nor top of sloping hill,
nor blade of grass sprouting or rising through the earth, but a bare
sea-like wave of desert heaps of sand environing the army. Now this of
itself made the Romans suspect treachery. Messengers also came from
Artavasdes the Armenian, with a message that he was engaged in a heavy
struggle since Hyrodes had fallen upon him, and that he could not send
Crassus aid; but he advised Crassus above all things to change his
route immediately, and, by joining the Armenians, to bring the contest
with Hyrodes to a close: but, if he would not do this, he recommended
him to advance, and always to avoid encamping in such places as were
adapted for the movements of cavalry, and to keep close to the
mountainous parts: to all which Crassus sent no written answer, but,
under the influence of passion and perverse disposition, he answered,
that he had no leisure at present to deal with the Armenians, but he
would come at another time to punish Artavasdes for his treachery.
Cassius was again much dissatisfied: but he gave over advising
Crassus, who was out of humour with him, though Cassius himself abused
the barbarian. "What evil dæmon," he said, "vilest of men, brought you
to us, and by what drugs and witchcraft have you persuaded Crassus to
plunge his army into a boundless wilderness and an abyss, and to
pursue a path more fit for a nomadic chief of robbers than for a Roman
Imperator?" But the barbarian, who was a cunning follow, with abject
servility, prayed him to endure a little longer; and, while running
along with the soldiers and giving them his help, he would jeer at
them in a laughing mood, and say, "I suppose you think that you are
marching through Campania, and you long for the fountains, and
streams, and shades, and baths, and taverns? Have you forgotten that
you are crossing the confines of the Arabs and Assyrians?" Thus the
barbarian amused the Romans, and before his treachery was discovered
he rode off, not, however, without the knowledge of Crassus, after
making him believe that he would serve the Roman army, and put the
affairs of the enemy in confusion.

XXIII. It is said that on that day Crassus did not appear, as is the
custom of Roman generals, in a purple dress, but in black, which he
immediately changed on observing what he had done: and it is also said
that the men who carried the standards had much difficulty in raising
some of them up, for they stuck in the ground as if they were firmly
rooted there. Crassus ridiculed all these omens, and quickened his
march, urging the infantry to follow after the cavalry, till at last a
few of those who had been sent forward as scouts came up, and reported
that the rest of them had been cut off by the enemy, and they had
escaped with difficulty, and that the Parthians were advancing with a
large force, and full of confidence. This threw all the army into
confusion, and Crassus was completely confounded, and began to put his
men in order hastily, and with no great presence of mind: at first, as
Cassius recommended, he extended the line of the legionary soldiers as
far as possible in the plain, and making it of small depth, in order
to prevent the enemy from attacking them on the flank, he distributed
the cavalry on the wings; but he changed his plan and, drawing his men
together, formed them into a deep square of four fronts, with twelve
cohorts on each side. By the side of each cohort he placed a body of
horse, in order that no part of the army might be without the aid of
the cavalry, but might make the attack equally protected on all sides.
He gave one of the wings to Cassius, and the other to young Crassus;
he himself took his station in the centre. Thus advancing, they came
to a stream called Balissus,[70] which was neither large nor copious;
but it was a joyful sight to the soldiers in the midst of the drought
and heat, and by comparison with the rest of their laborious march
through a country without water. Now most of the commanders thought
that they ought to encamp and spend the night there, and learn what
was the number of the enemy, and the nature and disposition of their
force, and so advance against them at daybreak; but Crassus, being
prevailed upon by the importunity of his son, and the cavalry with
him, to advance immediately, and engage with the enemy, gave orders
for the men who required it to eat and drink in their ranks. And
before this could be well accomplished all through the ranks, he led
on his men, not slowly, nor halting at intervals, as is usual when men
are marching to battle, but he kept them up to a quick, unbroken pace,
until the enemy were in sight, who, contrary to expectation, did not
appear to the Romans to be either numerous or formidable; for Surena
disguised his numbers by placing the mass of his force behind the
front ranks, and he prevented their bright armour from being seen by
ordering his men to cover themselves with cloaks and skins. But when
they were near the Romans, and the standard was raised by the general,
first of all they filled the plain with a deep sound and a terrific
noise; for the Parthians do not excite themselves to battle with horns
or trumpets, but they have hollow instruments,[71] made of skin, and
furnished with brass bells, on which they strike at the same time in
various parts; and these instruments produce a kind of deep and dismal
sound, compounded of the roaring of wild beasts and the harsh crash
of thunder; for the Parthians rightly judge that of all the senses
the hearing is that which causes the greatest alarm in the mind, and
that, when this sense is affected, there is the speediest and greatest
disturbance in the judgment.

XXIV. The Romans were startled at the noise, when all of a sudden
throwing off the covering of their armour the Parthians appeared, with
their helmets and breastplates flashing like flame, the Margian
steel[72] glittering sharp and bright, and the horses equipped in mail
of brass and iron; but Surena was most conspicuous of all, being the
tallest and handsomest man among them, though his personal appearance,
owing to his feminine beauty, did not correspond to his reputation for
courage, for he was dressed more in the Median fashion, with his face
painted[73] and his hair parted, while the rest of the Parthians,
still keeping to the Scythian fashion, wore their hair long and bushy
to make themselves more formidable. At first the Parthians intended to
fall upon them with their long spears, and to drive the front ranks
from their ground; but when they saw the depth of their close-locked
ranks, and the firmness and stability of the men, they drew back; and
while they seemed to be at the same time dispersing themselves and
breaking their ranks, they threw themselves around the square before
the Romans were aware of it. Crassus ordered the light-armed troops to
spring forward; but they had not advanced far before they were met by
a shower of arrows, which galled them, and they ran back for shelter
among the legionary soldiers, and caused the beginning of disorder and
alarm among the Romans, who saw the vigour with which the arrows were
discharged and their strength, for they tore the armour and made their
way through everything alike, whether hard or soft defence. The
Parthians, dispersing themselves at considerable distances from one
another, began to discharge their arrows from all points at once, not
taking any very exact aim (for the close and compact ranks of the
Romans did not give a man the opportunity of missing if he wished it),
but sending their arrows with vigorous and forcible effect from bows
which were strong and large, and, owing to their great degree of
bending, discharged the missiles with violence. Now the condition of
the Romans was pitiable from the beginning: for, if they kept their
position, they were exposed to be wounded, and if they attempted to
close with the enemy, they were just as far from doing the enemy any
harm, and they suffered just as much; for the Parthians while
retreating[74] still discharged their arrows, and they do this most
effectually next to the Scythians: and it is a most subtle device to
make their escape from danger while they are still fighting, and to
take away the disgrace of flight.

XXV.[75] The Romans endured so long as they had hopes that the
Parthians would withdraw from the contest when they had discharged
their arrows, or would come to close quarters; but when they perceived
that there were many camels standing there, loaded with arrows, and
that the Parthians who had first shot all their arrows, turned round
to the camels for a fresh supply, Crassus, seeing no end to this,
began to lose heart, and he sent messengers to his son with orders to
force the enemy to engage before he was surrounded, for the Parthians
were mainly attacking and surrounding with their cavalry the wing
commanded by young Crassus, with the view of getting in his rear.
Accordingly, the young man taking thirteen hundred horsemen, - a
thousand of whom he had brought from Cæsar, - and five hundred
archers, and eight cohorts of the legionary soldiers, who were nearest
to him, wheeled about to attack the Parthians. But the Parthians, who
were manœuvring about Crassus, either because they fell in with some
marshes,[76] as some say, or because it was their design to attack
Crassus when they had drawn him as far as they could from his father,
turned round and fled. On this Crassus, calling out that the Parthians
did not stand their ground, advanced with Censorinus and
Megabacchus,[77] of whom Megabacchus was distinguished for courage and
strength, and Censorinus[78] was a senator and a powerful speaker,
both of them companions of Crassus, and about the same age. The
cavalry pursued the enemy, nor did the infantry allow themselves to be
left behind, being full of alacrity and hope of victory; for they
thought that they were victorious and in pursuit: but they had not
gone far before they perceived the stratagem; for the Parthians, who
were supposed to be flying, began to face about, and others, in
greater numbers, joined them. Upon this the Romans halted, thinking
that the enemy would come to close quarters with them, as they were
only few in number. But the Parthians placing their mailed horsemen in
the front, to oppose the Romans, rode about them with the rest of the
cavalry dispersed, and, by trampling the ground, they raised from the
bottom heaps of sand, which threw up such an immense cloud of dust
that the Romans could neither see clearly nor speak; and, being driven
into a narrow compass, and falling one on another, they were wounded
and died no easy nor yet a speedy death, for tortured with violent
convulsions and pain, and writhing with the arrows in them, they
broke them in the wounds, and, by trying to pull out by force the
barbed points, which had pierced through their veins and nerves, they
increased the evil by breaking the arrows, and thus injured
themselves. Many thus fell, and the survivors also were unable to
fight; for, when Publius encouraged them to attack the mailed
horsemen, they showed him that their hands were nailed to their
shields, and their feet fastened right through to the ground, so that
they were unable either to fly or to defend themselves. However,
Publius cheering the cavalry, made a vigorous attack with them, and
closed with the enemy; but the Romans were under a disadvantage, both
as to attack and defence, striking with small and feeble spears
against breastplates of raw hide and iron, and receiving the blows of
long spears on the lightly-equipped and bare bodies of the Gauls, for
Crassus trusted most to them, and with them indeed he did wonderful
feats; for the Gauls, laying hold of the long spears, and closing with
the Parthians, pushed them from their horses, the men, owing to the
weight of their armour, being unable to stir themselves; and many of
the Gauls, quitting their own horses, and slipping under those of the
enemy, wounded them in the belly, and the horses springing up through
pain, and, at the same time, trampling on their riders and the enemy,
fell dead. The Gauls were most oppressed by the heat and thirst, being
unaccustomed to both, and they had lost most of their horses by
driving them against the long spears. They were, therefore, compelled
to retreat to the legionary soldiers, taking with them Publius, who
was badly wounded. Seeing a sandy eminence near, they retreated to it,
and fastened their horses in the middle, and closing in their front by
close-locking their shields, they thought they could thus more easily
repel the enemy: but it turned out just the other way; for, while they
were on the level ground, the front ranks did, in some sort, give
relief to those who were behind; but on this spot, which raised the
men one above another, by reason of the inequality of the ground, and
placed every one who was in the rear above the man in front of him,
there was no one who could escape, and they were all alike exposed to
the missiles, lamenting their inglorious and unresisting death. There
were with Publius two Greeks, who belonged to the dwellers in those
parts in Carrhæ,[79] Hieronymus and Nikomachus, both of whom attempted
to persuade Publius to retire with them, and to make his escape to
Ichnæ[80] a city which had taken the side of the Romans, and was not
far off. But he replied that no death was so dreadful as to make
Publius, through fear of it, desert those who were losing their lives
for his sake, and bade them save themselves, and taking leave of them,
he allowed them to go: himself being unable to use his hand
effectually, for it was pierced by an arrow, presented his side to his
shield-bearer[81] and ordered him to despatch him with his sword. They
say that Censorinus perished in the same way, and that Megabacchus
killed himself, and all the rest of the most distinguished men. The
Parthians, ascending the hill, transfixed with their spears the
survivors; and it is said that not more than five hundred were taken
prisoners. The Parthians, cutting off the head of Publius, immediately
rode off to attack Crassus.

XXVI. With Crassus matters were thus. After ordering his son to make
an attack on the Parthians, and receiving intelligence that they were
routed to a great distance, and were hotly pursued; seeing also that
the enemy in front were no longer pressing on him so much as before,
for most of them had crowded to the place where young Crassus was, he
recovered his courage a little, and drawing his forces together,
posted them on a sloping ground, being in immediate expectation that
his son would return from the pursuit. Of those who were sent by
Publius to his father, when he began to be in danger, the first fell
into the hands of the enemy and were killed; and the next, after
escaping with great difficulty, reported that Publius was lost, if he
did not receive speedy and sufficient aid from his father. Now,
Crassus was affected by many contending feelings at once, and he no

Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives Volume III → online text (page 6 of 55)