Battle of Carrhae

Marcus Licinius Crassus
Extent of the Parthian Empire
Formations at the start of the battle
Relief of a Parthian cataphract attacking a lion using kontos
Roman coin of Augustus (19 BC) showing a Parthian soldier returning the standards captured at Carrhae. Augustus hailed the return of the standards as a political victory over Parthia.
Parthian horseman
Detail from the breastplate of Augustus Prima Porta, showing a Parthian man returning the aquila lost by Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae

Fought in 53 BC between the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire near the ancient town of Carrhae .

- Battle of Carrhae

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Marcus Licinius Crassus

Roman general and statesman who played a key role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Bust of Crassus, in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen
A Roman marble head of the triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus, mid-1st century BC, Grand Palais, Paris
A Roman bust of Pompey the Great made during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), a copy of an original bust from 70 to 60 BC, Venice National Archaeological Museum, Italy
From left to right: Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Pompey the Great
Denarius minted by Publius Licinius Crassus, son of the triumvir Marcus, as monetalis in 55 BC; on the obverse is a laureate bust of Venus, perhaps in honor of his commanding officer Julius Caesar; on the reverse is an unidentified female figure, perhaps representing Gaul
"The torture of Crassus," 1530s, Louvre

Crassus' campaign was a disastrous failure, ending in his defeat and death at the Battle of Carrhae.

Parthian Empire

Major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran from 247 BC to 224 AD. Its latter name comes from its founder, Arsaces I, who led the Parni tribe in conquering the region of Parthia in Iran's northeast, then a satrapy under Andragoras, in rebellion against the Seleucid Empire.

The Parthian Empire in 94 BC at its greatest extent, during the reign of Mithridates II ((r. 124 – 91))
The silver drachma of Arsaces I (r. c. 247–211 BC) with the Greek language inscription ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ "of Arsaces"
Parthia, shaded yellow, alongside the Seleucid Empire (blue) and the Roman Republic (purple) around 200 BC
Drachma of Mithridates I, showing him wearing a beard and a royal diadem on his head. Reverse side: Heracles/Verethragna, holding a club in his left hand and a cup in his right hand; Greek inscription reading ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ "of the Great King Arsaces the Philhellene"
Drachma of Mithridates II (r. c. 124–91 BC). Reverse side: seated archer carrying a bow; inscription reading "of the King of Kings Arsaces the Renowned/Manifest Philhellene."
Han dynasty Chinese silk from Mawangdui, 2nd century BC, silk from China was perhaps the most lucrative luxury item the Parthians traded at the western end of the Silk Road.
Bronze statue of a Parthian nobleman from the sanctuary at Shami in Elymais (modern-day Khūzestān Province, Iran, along the Persian Gulf), now located at the National Museum of Iran. Dated 50 BC-150 AD, Parthian School.
A Roman marble head of the triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was defeated at Carrhae by Surena
Roman aurei bearing the portraits of Mark Antony (left) and Octavian (right), issued in 41 BC to celebrate the establishment of the Second Triumvirate by Octavian, Antony and Marcus Lepidus in 43 BC
Drachma of Phraates IV (r. c. 38–2 BC). Inscription reading ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΝ ΑΡΣΑΚΟΥ ΕΥΕΡΓΕΤΟΥ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝΟΣ "of the King of Kings Arsaces the Renowned/Manifest Benefactor Philhellene"
A close-up view of the breastplate on the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta, showing a Parthian man returning to Augustus the legionary standards lost by Marcus Licinius Crassus at Carrhae
A denarius struck in 19 BC during the reign of Augustus, with the goddess Feronia depicted on the obverse, and on the reverse a Parthian man kneeling in submission while offering the Roman military standards taken at the Battle of Carrhae
Map of the troop movements during the first two years of the Roman–Parthian War of 58–63 AD over the Kingdom of Armenia, detailing the Roman offensive into Armenia and capture of the country by Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo
Parthian king making an offering to god Herakles-Verethragna. Masdjid-e Suleiman, Iran. 2nd–3rd century AD. Louvre Museum Sb 7302.
Rock relief of Parthian king at Behistun, most likely Vologases III (r. c. 110–147 AD)
A Parthian (right) wearing a Phrygian cap, depicted as a prisoner of war in chains held by a Roman (left); Arch of Septimius Severus, Rome, 203 AD
A Sarmatian-Parthian gold necklace and amulet, 2nd century AD. Located in Tamoikin Art Fund
Parthian golden necklace, 2nd century AD, Iran, Reza Abbasi Museum
A Parthian ceramic oil lamp, Khūzestān Province, Iran, National Museum of Iran
Coin of Kamnaskires III, king of Elymais (modern Khūzestān Province), and his wife Queen Anzaze, 1st century BC
A statue of a young Palmyran in fine Parthian trousers, from a funerary stele at Palmyra, early 3rd century AD
Coin of Mithridates II of Parthia. The clothing is Parthian, while the style is Hellenistic (sitting on an omphalos). The Greek inscription reads "King Arsaces, the philhellene"
A ceramic Parthian water spout in the shape of a man's head, dated 1st or 2nd century AD
Parthian votive relief from Khūzestān Province, Iran, 2nd century AD
A barrel vaulted iwan at the entrance at the ancient site of Hatra, modern-day Iraq, built c. 50 AD
The Parthian Temple of Charyios in Uruk.
A wall mural depicting a scene from the Book of Esther at the Dura-Europos synagogue, dated 245 AD, which Curtis and Schlumberger describe as a fine example of 'Parthian frontality'
A sculpted head (broken off from a larger statue) of a Parthian soldier wearing a Hellenistic-style helmet, from the Parthian royal residence and necropolis of Nisa, Turkmenistan, 2nd century BC
Parthian long-necked lute, c. 3 BC – 3 AD

The Parthians destroyed the army of Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, and in 40–39 BC, Parthian forces captured the whole of the Levant except Tyre from the Romans.

Julius Caesar

Roman general and statesman.

The Tusculum portrait, possibly the only surviving sculpture of Caesar made during his lifetime. Archaeological Museum, Turin, Italy.
Gaius Marius, Caesar's uncle
Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla stripped Caesar of the priesthood.
A denarius depicting Julius Caesar, dated to February–March 44 BC—the goddess Venus is shown on the reverse, holding Victoria and a scepter. Caption: CAESAR IMP. M. / L. AEMILIVS BVCA
The extent of the Roman Republic in 40 BC after Caesar's conquests
Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar, painting by Lionel Royer. Musée Crozatier, Le Puy-en-Velay, France.
A Roman bust of Pompey the Great made during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), a copy of an original bust from 70 to 60 BC, Venice National Archaeological Museum, Italy.
Cleopatra and Caesar, 1866 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme
This mid-1st-century-BC Roman wall painting in Pompeii is probably a depiction of Cleopatra VII as Venus Genetrix, with her son Caesarion as Cupid. Its owner Marcus Fabius Rufus most likely ordered its concealment behind a wall in reaction to the execution of Caesarion on orders of Octavian in 30 BC.
Green Caesar, posthumous portrait of the 1st century AD, Altes Museum, Berlin
Statue of Julius Caesar, Via dei Fori Imperiali, Rome
La clémence de César, Abel de Pujol, 1808
Denarius (42 BC) issued by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Lentulus Spinther, depicting the crowned head of Liberty and on the reverse a sacrificial jug and lituus, from the military mint in Smyrna. Caption: C. CASSI. IMP. LEIBERTAS / LENTVLVS SPINT.
The senators encircle Caesar, a 19th-century interpretation of the event by Carl Theodor von Piloty
The Death of Caesar, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1867
Bust of Mark Antony made during the Flavian dynasty (69–96 AD)
Marc Antony's Oration at Caesar's Funeral by George Edward Robertson
Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, Caesar's adopted heir
The Chiaramonti Caesar bust, a posthumous portrait in marble, 44–30 BC, Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican Museums
Reliefs of Cleopatra and her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion, at the Temple of Dendera
Roman painting from the House of Giuseppe II, Pompeii, early 1st century AD, most likely depicting Cleopatra VII, wearing her royal diadem, consuming poison in an act of suicide, while her son Caesarion, also wearing a royal diadem, stands behind her
Julii Caesaris quae exstant (1678)
A 1783 edition of The Gallic Wars
Bust in Naples National Archaeological Museum, photograph published in 1902
Bust in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples
Bust of Julius Caesar from the British Museum
Modern bronze statue of Julius Caesar, Rimini, Italy

These achievements and the support of his veteran army threatened to eclipse the standing of Pompey, who had realigned himself with the Senate after the death of Crassus in 53 BC. With the Gallic Wars concluded, the Senate ordered Caesar to step down from his military command and return to Rome.

First Triumvirate

Informal alliance among three prominent politicians in the late Roman Republic: Gaius Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus.

From left to right: Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey
A Roman bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero, depicted here at about age sixty, in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain
A Roman bust of Pompey the Great made during the reign of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), a copy of an original bust from 70 to 60 BC, Venice National Archaeological Museum, Italy
A Roman bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
The Tusculum portrait, a bust of Julius Caesar in the Archaeological Museum of Turin, Italy
A Roman bust of Crassus in the Louvre, Paris, France
Family tree showing the relationship between the three members of the First Triumvirate, as well as their relationships with other prominent members of the Republic.

Crassus embarked on an expedition against the Parthians to match Caesar's victories in Gaul but died in the disastrous defeat of Carrhae in 53 BC.

Mounted archery

Cavalryman armed with a bow and able to shoot while riding from horseback.

Mounted archery in Tibet
Japanese mounted archers in the Gosannen War, 14th century painting by Hidanokami Korehisa
Young prince (later Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I) hunting for birds as a horsed archer. Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer.
A Timurid drawing of an Ilkhanid horse archer. Signed (lower right) Muhammad ibn Mahmudshah al-Khayyam Iran, early 15th century. Ink and gold on paper
Assyrian relief of a mounted archer
Parthian horse archer shooting at full gallop, undated relief at the Palazzo Madama, Turin.
16th-century Muscovite cavalry.
Qing Dynasty mounted archers face off against Dzungar mounted musketeers.
Bashkirs and Cossacks fighting French infantry with bows and lances at the Battle of Leipzig (1813).
Bashkir Horse Archers in Paris 1814.
Wall fragment from a Chinese tomb, with an incised relief decoration showing a hunting scene with mounted archery, Han dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome
Yabusame archer on horseback

The Roman general Crassus led a large army, with inadequate cavalry and missile troops, to catastrophe against Parthian horse archers and cataphracts at the Battle of Carrhae.

Roman–Persian Wars

The Roman–Persian Wars, also known as the Roman–Iranian Wars, were a series of conflicts between states of the Greco-Roman world and two successive Iranian empires: the Parthian and the Sasanian.

Rome, Parthia and Seleucid Empire in 200 BC. Soon both the Romans and the Parthians would invade the Seleucid-held territories, and become the strongest states in western Asia.
A sculpted head (broken off from a larger statue) of a Parthian warrior wearing a Hellenistic-style helmet, from the Parthian royal residence and necropolis of Nisa, Turkmenistan, 2nd century BC
Parthia, its subkingdoms, and neighbors in 1 AD
Reliefs depicting war with Parthia on the Arch of Septimius Severus, built to commemorate the Roman victories
Bishapur Relief II commemorating Shapur I's victories on the Western front, depicting him on horseback with a captured Valerian, a dead Gordian III, and a kneeling emperor, either Philip the Arab or Uranius.
Julian's unsuccessful campaign in 363 resulted in the loss of the Roman territorial gains under the peace treaty of 299.
A rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rostam, depicting the triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor Valerian and Philip the Arab.
Map of the Roman–Persian frontier after the division of Armenia in 384. The frontier remained stable throughout the 5th century.
Relief of a Sassanian delegation in Byzantium, marble, 4th–5th century, Istanbul Archaeological Museums.
Roman and Persian Empires in 477, as well as their neighbors.
Hunting scene showing king Khosrau I (7th century Sasanian art, Cabinet des Medailles, Paris).
The Eastern Roman–Persian border at the time of Justinian's death in 565, with Lazica in Eastern Roman (Byzantine) hands
The Sasanian Empire and its neighbors (including the Eastern Roman Empire) in 600 AD
The Roman-Persian frontier in the 4th to 7th centuries
Late Roman silver coin showing the words Deus adiuta Romanis ("May God help the Romans")
Cherub and Heraclius receiving the submission of Khosrau II; plaque from a cross (Champlevé enamel over gilt copper, 1160–1170, Paris, Louvre).
Byzantine and Sasanian Empires in 600 AD
The Sasanian Empire at its greatest extent ca. 620 AD
The assassination of Khosrau II, in a manuscript of the Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp made by Abd al-Samad c. 1535. Persian poems are from Ferdowsi's Shahnameh.
Historical re-enactment of a Sasanian-era cataphract
Roman siege engines
The Humiliation of Valerian by Shapur (Hans Holbein the Younger, 1521, pen and black ink on a chalk sketch, Kunstmuseum Basel)

The Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus led an invasion of Mesopotamia in 53 BC with catastrophic results; he and his son Publius were killed at the Battle of Carrhae by the Parthians under General Surena; this was the worst Roman defeat since the battle of Arausio.


Form of armored heavy cavalryman that originated in Persia and was fielded in ancient warfare throughout Eurasia and Northern Africa.

Historical reenactment of a Sassanid-era cataphract, complete with a full set of scale armor for the horse. The rider is covered by extensive mail armor.
Sculpture of a Sasanian cataphract in Taq-e Bostan, Iran. It is One of the oldest depictions of a cataphract.
The extent circa 170 BC of the Iranian Scythians and Parthians, to whom the first recorded use of true cataphract-like cavalry can be attributed in antiquity.
Chanfron, Northern Yan
A stone-etched relief depicting a Parthian cataphract fighting against a lion. Housed in the British Museum.
Three examples of the various styles of interweaving and wire threading that were commonly employed in the creation of cataphract scale armor to form a stiffened, "armored shell" with which to protect the horse.
Breakdown of a fully armoured Chinese cataphract
Equestrian relief at Firuzabad, Iran showing Cataphracts dueling with lances
The cataphract-style parade armor of a Saka (Scythian) royal from the Issyk kurgan, dubbed "Golden Man". The overlapping golden scales are typical of cataphract armor.
Two heavily armored noblemen dueling on horseback with kontos; Sasanian era silver plate with gold coating, Azerbaijan Museum, Tabriz, Iran
A depiction of Sarmatian cataphracts fleeing from Roman cavalry during the Dacian wars circa 101 AD, at Trajan's Column in Rome

In Europe, the fashion for heavily armored Roman cavalry seems to have been a response to the Eastern campaigns of the Parthians and Sassanids in the region referred to as Asia Minor, as well as numerous defeats at the hands of Iranian cataphracts across the steppes of Eurasia, most notably in the Battle of Carrhae in upper Mesopotamia (53 BC).


Major ancient city in Upper Mesopotamia whose site is in the modern village of Harran, Turkey, 44 kilometers southeast of Şanlıurfa.

Harran and other major cities of ancient Syria
Harran beehive houses
Traditional mud brick "beehive" houses in the village of Harran, Turkey
Harran beehive houses
Centerpiece of the GAP project, Atatürk Dam
Districts of Şanlıurfa
Abraham departs out of Haran by Francesco Bassano

In Roman times, Harran was known as Carrhae and was the location of the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE, in which the Parthians, commanded by general Surena, defeated a large Roman army under the command of Crassus, who was killed.

Infantry square

Historic combat formation in which an infantry unit formed in close order, usually when it was threatened with cavalry attack.

A depiction of a Napoleonic-era British infantry square at the Battle of Quatre Bras, Belgium, 1815.
Infantry of the French Revolutionary Army in square formation, under attack by Chouan rebels at the Battle of Rocher de La Piochais, 21 December 1795.
The charge of the French Cuirassiers at the Battle of Waterloo against a British square.
Egyptian Mamluk cavalry charges a French infantry square during the Battle of the Pyramids, 1798.
A depiction of the British square at the Battle of Abu Klea, during the Mahdist War in the late 19th century.
Union Infantry during the American Civil War form in an infantry square with bayonets fixed, 1860s.
A battalion of the US Army Coast Artillery Corps demonstrating the hollow square formation used in the event of a street riot, 1918.

In particular, a large infantry square was used by the Roman legions at the Battle of Carrhae against Parthia, whose armies contained a large proportion of cavalry.


Ancient region and state in Upper Mesopotamia.

Map includes Osroene as a tributary kingdom of the Armenian Empire under Tigranes the Great
Roman dependencies, including of Osroene (as of 31 BC)
Anatolia in the early 1st century AD with Osroëne as a client state of the Parthian Empire
Kingdom of Osroene (gray shade) and the surrounding regions during the 1st century AD
Ancient mosaic from Edessa (2nd century AD) with inscriptions in the Aramaic language
Roman province of Osroene, highlighted within the Roman Empire
Map showing the Eastern Roman provinces, including Osroene, in the 5th century
Coin of king Abgar, who ruled in Osroene during the reign of Roman emperor Septimius Severus (193-211)
Coin of king Abgar, who ruled in Osroene during the reign of Roman emperor Gordianus III (238-244)

The enormous and infamous Battle of Carrhae followed and destroyed the entire Roman army.