Crassus Defeated at Carrhae – Part I

European Connections with Osrhoene

Modern Europeans and Americans should be more aware of, and more sensitive to, both the Aramaean dimension of the Middle East, and the European dimension of Osrhoene, a SE province of EU candidate member Turkey, where crucial events of European History took place, and top European interests have always been at stake. Down to our days!


By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis, Orientalist


Welcoming this effort to highlight the diachronic significance of Osrhoene and its capital Urhoy (Edessa of Osrhoene, Urfa), by means of an entire website focused on the Aramaean High Land at the confines of Northern Mesopotamia, I feel most honoured to be invited to contribute to this site, and I find this occasion propitious for me to underscore – by means of Ancient Greek and Latin sources – the Aramaicity of Osrhoene, as well as its great importance for European History.

Through various forthcoming articles, I intend to make a) the modern Aramaeans proud of their illustrious past as recorded in Western sources during the Antiquity, b) the modern Turks aware of the Aramaean dimension of Modern Turkey (which will be of seminal importance for the European Plea of Turkey), and c) the modern Europeans sensitive to both, the Aramaean dimension of the Middle East, and the European dimension of Osrhoene.

Why focus on Arsacid/Triumvirate Osroene?

The last century of the Roman Republic, with the three triumvirates leading to the rise of the Empire (Imperium), and with the Arsacid Parthians using Greek philosophy and art to diffuse Mithraism to the West, finds the Aramaean Kingdom of Osrhoene in full mutation. The kingdom was established already by Aryu around Urhoy in 132 BCE, which means than in the present article we analyze events that took place almost 80 years after Osrhoene became independent from the ailing Seleucid Empire. The latter was superceded by Parthians in the East already in 250 BCE, and by Romans in the West in 63 BCE, while leaving free space for the formation of several lesser royalties (one of which was indeed Osrhoene) and principalities that expressed equally the local Aramaeans’ desire for independence and self-determination and the two superpowers’ prudence to let ‘buffer’ states cover sufficient space between the two borderlines.

This is the period the Aramaeans were able to expand their commercial network as far as China. If Imperial Rome was eager to spend an astronomical amount of sestertii for Chinese silk, frankincense and spices, this had become a possibility mostly due to the Aramaean commercial network’s expansion from the eastern borders of Iran to India and China. Aramaeans were present in Achaemenid Iran, and known as opulent merchants and skillful administrators; but their commercial network did not exist beyond the Empire’s borders. The expansion of the Aramaean commercial network was possible after achieving a better coordination between the land and desert roads with the sea trade route; to this contributed the increased interest of Ptolemaic Egypt for trade navigation beyond the Bab wl Mandeb straits of the Red Sea and the victory of the Sabaean (Sheba) – Himyarite coalition over Qataban (the most experienced and exposed in navigation among the Ancient Yemenite states) which dates back to 115 BCE. It makes sense to add that for these reasons the presence of Aramaean communities in Egypt has been catapulted precisely in the 1st century BCE and the 1st century CE.

Osrhoene seems to have been the gravitational point of the various parts of the network, the place from where the most daring efforts have emanated, and this was due to some extent to the opulence of its merchants; it took centuries for Gerrha, (unidentified and unexcavated Aramaic city plausibly somewhere in the Emirates’ coast / said to be the eastern equivalent of Alexandria for its accumulated wealth), Palmyra, Nisibis and Hatra to be able to compete. Smaller principalities like Adiabene, Kharax Spasinou, Dura Europos, and Rekem / Petra never surpassed the simple level of ‘caravan city’ in a world shaped according to Osrhoene Aramaeans’ plans and conceptualizing.

If Maes Titianus was able to travel to China in the 1st century CE, the background work dates back to the 1st century BCE. The successful Aramaic foreign policy of Osrhoene proved to be a pertinent successor of the Old Aramaean (Bit Adini, Aram – Dimashq/Damascus, etc) kingdoms’ foreign policy expertise. Tergiversating between Rome and Arsacid Parthia, in the same way Aram – Dimashq had done it between pre-Sargonid Assyria and Egypt, the Aramaean King secured longevity and therefore wealth inflow in his buffer kingdom that became the epicenter of the then World Trade.

When Crassus attempted in vain a victory over Parthia to ensure honours at home, Osrhoene’s king was Abgar Bar Abgar (also known as Abgar II –reigned 68 – 52 BCE). He was contemporaneous to his neighbor, Antiochus 1st of Commagene, who is known for the superb peak sanctuary (Ierothesion koryfes) at Nemrud Dagh, where a visitor can admire (at an altitude of 2150 m) gigantesque statues of the five gods of Commagene in the western and eastern platforms (the northern being totally destroyed by an earthquake).

Commagene was politically pro-Roman, artistically Greek, and ideologically – religiously Iranian (the highest place of the world’s Mithraism). Antiochos 1st supported Crassus, although he had claimed descent from Darius (from his father side). Assessing monuments and sources and analyzing deeds, one is confined to admit that Commagene’s originality was not Commagenian at all! It was a 50/50 mixture of the Iranian and Greco-Roman worlds. Although in the propinquity of 70 km, Osrhoene was a completely different entity: the world of the Aramaeans. Abgar II wished to keep the Roman armies far from his kingdom that risked becoming a permanent battlefield (as it happened indeed in the Sassanid times), and after gaining their trust, he drove them to the open plain where the Roman army had little chance in front of the less numerous Parthian infantry. After Crassus’ defeat, we do not detect any specific gain for the Osrhoene kingdom in terms of annexation and/or expansion but we attest an increased Parthian presence in NW Mesopotamia. Perhaps this was the basic aim of the Aramaean foreign policy and the secret target may have the incorporation into a sphere of political influence within which the Aramaeans had the upper hand in the sector of trade.

Crassus’ unsuccessful linkage of foreign and inner politics

Viewed from a Roman perspective, Crassus’ attempt to win over the Parthians is a sheer linkage of foreign and inner politics. Roman armies were not unknown in the East, and Pompey, one of Crassus’ two rivals had spent much time fighting against Mithridates of Pontus between 67 and 61 BCE. During that time Crassus increased his wealth and influence in Rome, whereas the youngest of the tree contenders, Caesar, had marked military successes in the Iberian Peninsula. Three of them form the first Triumvirate by which the two elder members would support the younger as Consul so that he in turn goes ahead with legislation granting them what they wished. Of course, one must bear in mind that what we pompously call ‘triumvirate’ was mostly a secret for the Roman Senate! It proved to be a difficult conspiracy to undertake, and the three members underwent various meetings to readjust roles in 56 BCE. Then they agreed for Pompey and Crassus bidding for Consulship so that they pass legislation extending Caesar’s duty in Gaul, while they would ‘divide’ the rest between them with Pompey becoming pro-consul for Hispania and Crassus pro-consul for Syria, as the Romans called the land of the Aramaeans. Contrarily to his counterparts, Crassus did not have a military success in his records. He was a man delved into finance of all forms and as a solid patron of the Eques he was involved in almost all the top financial intrigues. In brief, Crassus was the epitome of clientele politics in Rome. There was no legislation proposition introduced by Crassus that did not have purely financial reason and target. Decades before Octavian occupied Egypt, Crassus had suggested the Roman annexation of Egypt, clearly understanding the wealth that the Nile Valley would bring to Rome.

Many modern scholars try to make a point of Crassus undertaking the fatal expedition to Osrhoene in order to achieve a military victory and then gain some points in inner Roman politics. This may be true to some extent, but we should rather consider it as a half said truth or a glass described as half empty! With his entire mind ceaselessly focused on finance, money lending, and trade, the simple thought of a military expedition considered as just points gained against the other two aspirants seems too puerile an idea for a consummate businessman of his time. With the information available at his days, Crassus may have attempted in the plains of Osrhoene what the Roman Senatus had prevented him to obtain in the Nile Valley: the key strategic position to control one of the two trade routes with the East (here we imply Central Asia, India and East Africa, but not China). A victory at Carrhae may have opened for him the gates of Mesopotamia and the way to Ctesiphon (Tesifun, one of the Parthian capitals, as Iran had always multiple capitals) and the Persian Gulf. The linkage of foreign and inner politics in the case of Crassus was of financial, not simply personal, contents.

Western Historical Sources

The main Western historical sources relating to Crassus’ defeat at Carrhae are Dio Cassius (who, born in Nicaea, today’s Iznik near Bursa in Turkey, wrote during the early 3rd century CE), Appian (who, born in Alexandria of Egypt, wrote in the early second half of the 2nd century CE), and Plutarch (who, born in Chaeronea near Thebes in Greece, wrote almost 100 years before Dio Cassius). The three authors wrote in Greek, the language with the strongest philological aura among the elite of Rome. Plutarch wrote around 160 years after the disastrous events at Carrhae, and the other two illustrious historians followed with intervals of almost 50 years.

However, the most comprehensive source among the three writers remains Dio Cassius because Plutarch incorporated his narrations about the Carrhae defeat in the biography of Crassus that he included in his opus Bioi Paralelloi (Parallel Lives), a unique sort of prosopography that hinges on the author’s preferences without being regular historiography. On the hand, Appian’s interest to come up with illustrations of the history of nations that had been incorporated within the Roman Empire led him to fragmentary compilations that were finally summed up to form his celebrated Romaika (Roman History). In his case, we do not have a genuine case of historiography but a sort of Table of Nations.

Dio Cassius Cocceianus, son to a Roman senator, was senator and governor of Smyrna after the death of Septimius Severus. At the top of the Roman Imperial administration, he had access to all types of sources available, and his reputation of severe statesman may have been reflected in his identity of writer. He composed an enormous work of 80 volumes for which he needed no less than 22 years to complete after research and investigation. He started from the legendary times of Aeneas and the foundation of Rome and covered events of Roman History down to 229 CE. The earlier periods are presented in rather summarized form, but starting with the first triumvirate Dio Cassius becomes exhaustive. Part of the magnificent work has been lost but the piece concerning the Carrhae battle belongs to the best-saved portion of the work.

Dio Cassius narrates Crassus’ defeat at Carrhae

The narration of the events is part of the volume 40. This volume contains the following main parts:

a) Caesar sailing to Britain (chapters 1 – 3)
b) Caesar’s return to Gaul and engagement in wars (chapters 4 –11)
c) Crassus’ plans for war against Parthian Iran (chapters 12 – 13)
d) Comments on the Parthians (chapters 14 – 15)
e) Crassus defeat (chapters 16 – 30)
f) Caesar’s annexation of the entire Transalpine Gaul to Rome (chapters 31 – 44)
g) Clodius’ assassination by Millo (chapters 48 and 54) and
h) the early phases of confrontation between Caesar and Pompey (chapters 59 – 66).

We will proceed by presenting Dio Cassius’ text in English translation (*.html#20) and commentary, starting with the last sentence of chapter 11. Since the text is truly large, to facilitate the reader, we will present several units under different titles, with each unit including text and commentary. The numbers marked within the text indicate the chapters of Dio Cassius’ 40th book.

Crassus’ Plans for a Military Expedition against Parthia


These were the events that took place in Gaul, and Caesar wintered there, thinking that he would be able to bring the Gauls under strict control. 12 But Crassus, desiring for his part to accomplish something that involved glory and at the same time profit, and seeing that no such thing was possible in Syria, where the people themselves were quiet, and those who had formerly warred against the Romans were by reason of their powerlessness causing no disturbance, made a campaign against the Parthians. He had no complaint to bring against them nor had the war been assigned to him; but he heard that they were exceedingly wealthy and expected that Orodes would be easy to capture, because he was but newly established. Therefore he crossed the Euphrates and advanced far into Mesopotamia, devastating and ravaging the country. For since his crossing was unexpected by the barbarians no careful guard of the ford had been kept. Consequently Silaces, then satrap of that region, was quickly defeated near Ichnae, a fortress so named, after contending with a few horsemen; and being wounded, he retired to report personally to the king the Romans' invasion. 13 Crassus, on his side, quietly won over the garrisons and especially the Greek cities, among them one named Nicephorium. For colonists in great numbers, descendants of the Macedonians and of the other Greeks who had campaigned in Asia with them, readily transferred their allegiance to the Romans, since they were oppressed by the violence of the barbarians (?), and placed strong hopes in the invaders, whom they regarded as friends of the Greeks. The inhabitants of Zenodotium, however, on the pretence that they also were going to revolt, sent for some of the invaders, and then, when they were within the town, arrested and killed them, for which act they were driven from their homes. Apart from this Crassus neither inflicted nor received any serious harm at that time. He certainly would have subdued also the other regions this side of the Tigris, if he had followed up the advantage of his own quiet attack and the barbarians' panic consistently in all respects, and also if he had wintered where he was, keeping strict watch of affairs. As it was, he captured only such places as he could seize by sudden assault and paid no heed to the rest nor even to the places conquered, but vexed by the delay in Mesopotamia, and longing for the indolence of Syria, he afforded the Parthians time to prepare themselves and to harass the soldiers left behind in their country.


Economic interests for the war against Parthia

The first lines of chapter 12 indicate twice very clearly what many traditional specialists of Roman History never read carefully: Crassus’ financial motives for his expedition against the Parthian King Orodes. We specify that this king was actually Orodes II who reigned 57 – 38 BCE. The first indication is the sentence ‘desiring for his part to accomplish something that involved glory and at the same time profit’. The second point is said covertly ‘he heard that they were exceedingly wealthy’; this alludes to the Parthian customs and tolls extracted throughout the land and desert routes they controlled through Asia. At this point, we have to add that Crassus may have been the first shrewd Roman statesman to have had a perspicacious view over the world economics of his era, but he was certainly not the first in the world. On the other edge of the Eurasian continent, the Chinese have been importing goods from the area of the Middle East, India, and East Africa (all through Central Asia of course for the period we examine), and they had a good estimation of money gone to Parthian tolls and customs. This must have been probably known to Crassus. Already more than 70 years before Crassus, Zhan Qian, a Chinese royal explorer led a delegation far in the West, and after his return he compiled his account of Ansi, as he named Parthia (actually the Chinese word is the transliteration of the dynastic name: Arsacid). He described Parthian Iran as a highly sophisticated and developed country but he probably all this is due to hearsay from adjacent countries, namely the eastern neighbors of Iran, the Central Asiatic states of Transoxiana (Yuezhi in Chinese) and Ferghana (Dayuan in Chinese). According to his report ‘Ansi is situated several thousand li west of the region of the Great Yuezhi . The people are settled on the land, cultivating the fields and growing rice and wheat. They also make wine out of grapes. They have walled cities like the people of Dayuan, The region contains several hundred cities of various sizes. The coins of the country are made of silver and bear the face of the king. When the king dies, the currency is immediately changed and new coins issued with the face of his successor. The people keep records by writing on horizontal strips of leather. To the west lies Tiaozi (Mesopotamia)’. (Shiji, 123 – in translation by Burton Watson).

Commercial relations seem to have flourished ever since betwenn Iran and China, and according the aforementioned text ‘in the course of one year five to ten embassies were sent to Iran, always including more than 100 members’. Once the Parthian king is said to have dispatched no less than 20000 infantry to meet the Chinese delegation at the easternmost confines of Iran in Central Asia.

The same excerpt makes a positive comment about the loyalty of the Aramaeans who were already incorporated in the ‘Syrian’ province of the Roman state; Crassus is depicted as evaluating that ‘in Syria …. the people themselves were quiet’. This refers to the Aramaean majority rather than to the few Greeks and the Macedonians living in Antioch. Crassus may have included the Aramaeans of Roman Syria in his plans and projects related to the land and desert trade routes of Central Asia.

On the other hand, the excerpt bears witness to the accuracy of the Roman information about Parthia; truly Orodes ‘was but newly established’. Topographical focus

Then, we find Crassus crossing Euphrates, and sieging Ichmae which was a military outpost earlier established by the Macedonian armies of Alexander after the name of a small town nearby Pella, the then Macedonian capital. Ichnae most probably corresponds to either Tell es-Sadde, in the central part of the Balikh valley or Tell Sabi Abyad (lit. Mound of the White Boy), another nearby tell where Dutch archeological teams have been excavating over the past two decades (digging in earlier strata). The Balikh valley is named after the Balikh river, ‘a small tributary of the Euphrates which rises near the Turkish border and joins the Euphrates at the Syrian city of Raqqa. As a rule the river does not run dry at any time of the year’ ( We are rather inclined to identify Ichnae with Tell Sabi Abyad, around 30 km in the south of the
Turkish border, based on the text ‘Parthian Stations’ (a kind of travel diary from the first century BC, so precisely the times of Crassus) by Isidorus of Charax, an Aramaean who marked the distance between successive sites in his itinerary. In his chapter ‘Mesopotamia and Babylonia 171 Schoeni’, Isidorus of Charax names Ichnae immediately before Nicephorum along the Euphrates (so certainly present-day Raqqa on the Euphrates). Herewith we publish an English translation of the excerpt:

1. For those who cross the Euphrates, next to Zeugma is the city of Apamia, and then the village of Daeara. It is 3 schoeni distant from Apamia and the river Euphrates. Then Charax Sidae, called by the Greeks the city of Anthemusias, 5 schoeni: beyond which is Coraea, in Batana, a fortified place: 3 schoeni. To the right of this place is Mannuorrha Auyreth, a fortified place, and a well, from which the inhabitants get drinking water, 5 schoeni. Then Commisimbela, a fortified place: by which flows the river Bilecha, 4 schoeni. Then Alagma, a fortified place, a royal station, 3 schoeni; beyond which is Ichnae, a Greek city, founded by the Macedonians: it is situated on the river Balicha: 3 schoeni. Then Nicephorium by the Euphrates, a Greek city, founded by King Alexander, 5 schoeni.

As we will see in Dio Cassius’ excerpt, Crassus reached Nicephorium immediately after his victory at Ichnae. Furthermore, the Roman Historian’s excerpt makes therefore clear that many of the strongholds established by the Macedonian King duriong his invasions were preserved by both the Seleucids and the Arsacids, being therefore still in use during the Roman times. The small Parthian battalion was not in a position to stop the Romans; it was led by Satrap Silaces who – like all the Parthian administrators and generals – relied mostly on infantry. Although wounded, he was able to withdraw and reach Ctesiphon reporting the Roman attack.

Greeks’ and Aramaeans’ different attitudes towards Crassus

Crassus proceeded then to Nicephorium, a mainly Greek city, sure that he would find support for his case, as he did. Dio Cassius’ excerpt offers a vociferous denunciation of the colonial historiographers’ false assumption of a ‘hellenized’ Parthian Empire. As we read, the Greek population of Nicephorium / Raqqa ‘readily transferred their allegiance to the Romans, since they were oppressed by the violence of the barbarians (?), and placed strong hopes in the invaders, whom they regarded as friends of the Greeks’. What can the statement ‘oppressed by the violence of the barbarians’ possibly mean? These Greeks constituted along with other Macedonian and Greek ‘islands’ within the Arsacid Empire one of the many peoples of Parthia, and we have full proof of the Parthian tolerance towards the various peoples of their vast territory. We have no particular evidence of any financial, political or military oppression exercised over the Macedonians and the Greeks of the Parthian Empire. The expression itself means nothing if taken out of a military context, but precisely there was no rebellion – suppression cycle in this case. What can it possibly hint at? The terms employed suggest that we have to do with a pro-Greek view of an author, who wants to mention the phenomenon of cultural oppression, a type of cultural parthianization to which the Greeks and the Macedonians resisted to various extent from Euphrates to Bactria, of course unsuccessfully. The increasingly predominant – although not totalitarian – Parthian culture, Mithraism with social preponderance of infantry noblesse, minor role for the urban affairs and greater stress on agriculture and trade, higher role for the priesthood, and structurally different administration, must have displeased the libertarian Greeks who had difficulty to accept the Macedonian rule. It is therefore normal that the Greeks of Nicephorium supported Crassus. Following the text, we notice that the population of Zenodotium did not react similarly to Crassus’ surprise. This city has not been properly identified so far; it might be either As Sabkha ( or Judaydat Khabur, or eventually Tibni, but most probably not Deir ez Zor that stands as far as the middle of the distance between Nicephorium and Doura Europos. It was named certainly after a Zenodotus, but most probably not the most famous one, Zenodotus of Ephesus who was the first to be appointed Librarian of Alexandria, and not Zenodotus of Alexandria, who was a lesser figure. Whether it was named after Zenodotus of Mallus (the Cilician erudite who insisted on geocentrism, opposing the heliocentric system of Aristarchus) is anyone’s guess. Certainly Zenodotium must have been in the east of Nicephorium / Raqqa, and it is quite interesting that the text itself does not say anything about the origin of the local population. This lets us understand that they were not Greeks or Macedonians for in such case Dio Cassius would have stressed it, as he did earlier while speaking of Nicephorium. Of course, when Zenodotium was founded (most probably at the end of the 4th century BCE or during the 3rd century BCE / either on an earlier Aramaic settlement or not), there would be Greeks and Macedonians living among the indigenous Aramaeans, who would consist in the majority as in most of these cities – enclaves of ‘Hellenistic’ culture. But what this excerpt lets us understand was something that happened in all the cases sooner or later; the Greeks and the Macedonians with their astyphilia and inclination to urban life were gradually concentrated in few big cities, and therefore as late as the 1st century BCE the Aramaeans had become the exclusive population of the earlier ‘Hellenistic’ cities – enclaves. The attitude of the Zenodotium Aramaeans was diametrically opposed to that of the (ruled by but not exclusively inhabited by) Greeks of Nicephorium. They were not properly equipped as the Roman army so they tried to cause a certain damage, expecting probably the Parthian army to arrive in time. This did not happen and Crassus had the city destroyed. This was the major harm caused to the Roman army advancing in Aramaean Mesopotamian on Parthian territory. The lack of immediate Parthian reaction is mentioned in the last lines of the chapter in which Dio Cassius – from the comfort of his scriptorium and with the distance of some centuries – criticizes Crassus for having not advanced further in the east up to Tigris river. The argument of lack of reaction is wrong. It was late fall, as we come to know through the text, and in most of the cases during the Antiquity war activities were stopped until next spring. Crassus hibernated in Syria, probably in Antioch or in the coast, offering therefore to the Parthians a significant span of time for preparation. But advancing so far from Rome, against not a minor but the major rival power, in wintertime would be far riskier for an adventurous general, let alone a consummate merchant and politician, like Crassus.


14 This was the beginning of the war of the Romans against the Parthians. These people dwell beyond the Tigris, for the most part in forts and garrisons, but also in a few cities, among them Ctesiphon, in which they have a royal residence. Their race was in existence among the ancient barbarians and they had this same name even under the Persian kingdom; but at that time they inhabited only a small portion of the country and had acquired no dominion beyond their own borders. But when the Persian rule had been overthrown and that of the Macedonians was at its height, and when the successors of Alexander had quarrelled with one another, cutting off separate portions for themselves and setting up individual monarchies, the Parthians then first attained prominence under a certain Arsaces, from whom their succeeding rulers received the title of Arsacidae. By good fortune they acquired all the neighbouring territory, occupied Mesopotamia by means of satrapies, and finally advanced to so great glory and power as to wage war even against the Romans at that time, and ever afterward down to the present day to be considered a match for them. They are really formidable in warfare, but nevertheless they have a reputation greater than their achievements, because, in spite of their not having gained anything from the Romans, and having, besides, given up certain portions of their own domain, they have not yet been enslaved, but even to this day hold their own in the wars they wage against us, whenever they become involved in them. 15 Now about their race and their country and their peculiar customs many have written, and I have no intention of describing them. But I will describe their equipment of arms and their method of warfare; for the examination of these details properly concerns the present narrative, since it has come to a point where this knowledge is needed. The Parthians make no use of a shield, but their forces consist of mounted archers and pikesmen, mostly in full armour. Their infantry is small, made up of the weaker men; but even these are all archers. They practise from boyhood, and the climate and the land combine to aid both horsemanship and archery. The land, being for the most part level, is excellent for raising horses and very suitable for riding about on horse-back; at any rate, even in war they lead about whole droves of horses, so that they can use different ones at different times, can ride up suddenly from a distance and also retire to a distance speedily; and the atmosphere there, which is very dry and does not contain the least moisture, keeps their bowstrings tense, except in the dead of winter. For that reason they make no campaigns anywhere during that season but the rest of the year they are almost invincible in their own country and in any that has similar characteristics. For by long experience they can endure the sun's heat, which is very scorching, and they have discovered many remedies for the dearth of drinking-water and the difficulty of securing it, so that for this reason also they can easily repel the invaders of their land. Outside of this district beyond the Euphrates they have once or twice gained some success in pitched battles and in sudden incursions, but they cannot wage an offensive war with any nation continuously and without pause, both because they encounter an entirely different condition of land and sky and because they do not lay in supplies of food or pay. Such is the Parthian state.


Having completed the description of the early phase of the Roman attack, Dio Cassius goes through an ‘Exkurse’ offering a brief picture of the Parthian kingdom, covering altogether History, Society, Military Affairs and Geography! It seems he avoided to expand over the topic although he had many sources available. Due to our terrible lack of Parthian sources, these two paragraphs of Dio Cassius still consist in the core of information we use and rely upon, when it comes to Parthia. Through a multitude of other (direct but fragmentary) sources (encompassing epigraphics, numismatics, archaeological evidence and reliable posterior textual sources), we can evaluate Dio Cassius’ brief excerpt as true and pertinent. The only point of criticism we can elaborate in this regard relates to the sentence in which Dio Cassius explains the reason Parthians did not make wars during wintertime. He says ‘and the atmosphere there, which is very dry and does not contain the least moisture, keeps their bowstrings tense, except in the dead of winter. For that reason they make no campaigns anywhere during that season’. It is accurate as observation, certainly bow strings cannot be in winter as tense as in the other seasons, but this is not the real reason Parthians made no winter campaigns. The real reason was an almost 3000-year old tradition going back to Akkadian, Egyptian, Neo-Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian, Hittite, Hurrian and Persian times. Campaigns started with the ‘New Year’s Day’ (i.e. the Spring Equinox on the 21st of March) in Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Persia, and the same happened in Pharaonic Egypt, where the ‘summer’ period started around the middle of March (the Nile country had three seasons of four months each, with ‘flood’ starting in mid-July and ‘winter’ beginning in mid- November). This tradition continued down to the Ottoman era.

(to be continued)