Forty-one-year-old Mark Antony stood on the terrace of the palace at Tarsus and watched with growing anticipation as the huge barge rowed slowly up the Cydnus River from the nearby Mediterranean harbor at Rhegma. A beautiful child, Antony had grown into a handsome and impressive man, with broad shoulders and a large chest. His neck was as thick as a wrestler’s. His jaw was square and set, his mouth large, his nose well defined, his eyes hooded. Yet, for a man with his reputation as a fearsome fighter in battle, he could be quite vain, and fashionably wore his hair curled into ringlets by curling tongs.

Around Antony there were smiles on the faces of his generals and the freedmen on his staff, as all eyes followed the slow course of the glittering Egyptian barge coming up the river. After much prevarication, Cleopatra, the twenty-eight-year-old queen of Egypt, had finally succumbed to Mark Antony’s summonses and had sailed from Egypt to meet with him here in Cilicia.

The capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, Tarsus was a center of government, commerce, and learning—its university was famed for its Greek philosophers. Tarsus had grown prosperous since its foundation 650 years before, courtesy of the flax plantations of Cilicia’s fertile interior. These provided the raw material for the linen and canvas factories and ropemakers of Tarsus, whose products were exported the length and breadth of the Roman Empire. The town was also strategically placed, being not far from the Cilician Gates, the only major pass in the Taurus Mountains just to the east. Rome’s longtime enemy the Parthian Empire, whose homeland occupied modern Iran and Iraq, lay beyond those mountains. Julius Caesar had based himself in Tarsus in 47 B.C. following his conquest of Egypt. And during this stay, Caesar had apparently granted Roman citizenship to the free residents of Tarsus. Antony, since his arrival, had added to the honors, making Tarsus a free city by removing all taxes on its citizens, and also freed all those who had been sold into slavery in the city.

Word had reached Antony that Cleopatra was on her way when her fleet was sighted sailing up the Syrian coast. For a long time it had seemed that she would not come. She had ignored several letters, from Antony and from friends, urging her to meet Antony in Cilicia. So, the previous fall, Antony had sent Quintus Dellius, a member of his entourage, to the Egyptian capital to personally require Cleopatra to meet him in Cilicia and answer the accusation that she had provided financial support to Cassius the Liberator. Dellius was a good choice as envoy. A renowned historian, he was as wise as he was diplomatic. In Alexandria he had found Cleopatra very wary of Antony. She had met Antony once, at Alexandria, when she was fourteen and he was a young cavalry colonel in the army of Roman general Aulus Gabinius. General Gabinius had brought his army down from Syria to reinstate Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy XII, on the Egyptian throne after he had been deposed by his own people. Even in those times Antony had a fearsome reputation as a soldier. Only recently he had taken a rebel Jewish stronghold in Judea, while in the weeks prior to arriving in Alexandria he had led General Gabinius’s cavalry advance guard in swiftly seizing the Egyptian fortress of Pelusium.

During the fourteen years since that brief encounter between princess and colonel, Antony’s military reputation had multiplied. By the time that Dellius arrived at Cleopatra’s court, the queen had heard how Antony dealt with opponents: he’d had hundreds, including famous orator Cicero, beheaded following Caesar’s murder. And after the Battles of Philippi, he had executed the officer responsible for the death of his brother Gaius, on Gaius’s tomb. Realizing this, Dellius had assured Cleopatra that she had nothing to fear from his master. Antony, said Dellius, so Plutarch records, was “the gentlest and kindest of soldiers.” Dellius even advised Cleopatra to go to the Roman general in her best attire, to impress him. Cleopatra, says Plutarch, had some faith in Dellius’s assurances, but had more faith in her own attractions. As Plutarch points out, those attractions had won her the hearts and support of Julius Caesar, and before him, of the Roman military commander in Egypt, Pompey the Great’s eldest son, Gnaeus Pompey. And now Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, consort of the later dictator Caesar and mother of his son Caesarion, was coming to Antony, the latest Roman strongman, intent on dazzling him.

The Egyptians, the best shipbuilders of the age, were famous for creating massive pleasure barges for their sovereigns, and the craft that brought Cleopatra up the Cydnus was no exception. Its stern was gilded with gold, and the billowing sails were made from purple, the rarest and most valuable of cloths. The oars jutting from the outriggers on either side of the barge were of shining silver; they dipped and rose in perfect harmony to the tune of flutes, fifes, and harps. Cleopatra herself lay on a bed on the deck, beneath a canopy of gold cloth, dressed as the goddess Venus. Around her were pretty young boys costumed as Cupids. The queen’s female attendants, dressed as sea nymphs and graces, steered the barge’s rudder and hauled on ropes to bring in the sails. The awestruck people of Tarsus had never seen anything like it. Crowding along both riverbanks, thousands of locals kept pace with the huge, slow-moving barge as it came upstream.

Antony decided that he would receive Cleopatra seated on the raised tribunal, or judge’s platform, in the Forum of Tarsus. When he arrived with his entourage to take his place on the tribunal, his Praetorian Guard bodyguard spread around the city marketplace to secure it. They found the place deserted—everyone had gone to see Queen Cleopatra. Shakespeare was to write that the very air left the marketplace, such was her attraction. Once the barge docked, Antony sent a message to Cleopatra, inviting her to dine with him. Cleopatra sent back a message of her own, inviting Antony to instead dine with her aboard her pleasure barge. Intrigued, Antony accepted the queen’s invitation. According to Plutarch, it was said by the Tarsians that this would be like a meeting of the gods—that it was as if Venus had come to feast with Bacchus.

Antony arrived at the barge to find that sumptuous preparations had been made. Most magnificent of all were the illuminations. As he stepped aboard, tree branches were let down bearing glowing lamps forming patterns, some in squares, some in circles. “The whole thing was a spectacle rarely equaled for beauty,” Plutarch was to comment.

Now Antony was greeted by the diminutive, elegantly attired Egyptian queen. Her olive skin was as smooth as silk. Her jet black hair had been elaborately braided by personal hairdressers who worked on her coiffure for hours every day. An asp of solid gold, her royal symbol, projected from the front of a golden diadem on her head. Her elaborately decorated dress was almost skin-tight, and accentuated her figure. A picture to behold, she was unlike any woman Antony had previously seen. By all accounts Cleopatra was not an incomparable beauty. She was petite and plain. But she had a charisma that struck all who met her. The attraction of her person and the charm of her conversation were bewitching, says Plutarch. According to Roman historian Appian, Antony fell in love with her at first sight. That first night Antony was polite, and enjoyed Cleopatra’s hospitality, although at this first meeting both were restrained, as the young queen explained all that she had contributed to the fight against Cassius the Liberator. Antony never raised the subject of Cassius again.

On the day following the dinner on the barge, Cleopatra went to dine with Antony in Tarsus. He strove to emulate or even outdo her but could not match the magnificence of her reception. And he found himself trailing in the wake of her conversation. She could speak numerous languages fluently and was highly intelligent. According to later Arab writers, to add to her many attributes Cleopatra was a learned scholar. Antony, in comparison, was a man without gloss, or pretense. He was a soldier, and what you saw was what you got. As Cleopatra shared his table, he was the first to poke fun at his own lack of refined wit or sophistication. He was more comfortable with hard-drinking men friends, telling bawdy barracks jokes. It was then that Cleopatra demonstrated how clever she truly was. She began to tell Antony dirty jokes—“without any reluctance or reserve,” says Plutarch. And by lowering herself to Antony’s level, she captivated him. Here was a woman who could drink, tell crude jokes, and gamble like a man, yet was still a sexual temptress. He fell head over heels in love with her. Appian was to say, “He became her captive as if he were a young man.”

After that, says Cassius Dio, Antony gave no thought to honor but became Cleopatra’s slave, and devoted his time to his passion for her. Abandoning his plans to invade Parthia, Antony accepted Cleopatra’s invitation to return to Egypt with her. They promptly sailed to Alexandria. There, Antony, Cleopatra, and the members of their entourages entertained each other day in, day out, sparing no expenditure, calling themselves the Inimitable Livers. Plutarch tells the story that during this period a friend of his own grandfather visited the kitchens of the royal palace at Alexandria and found eight wild boars in various stages of roasting on the spit. The visitor remarked that the queen must be entertaining a large crowd, but the cook replied that apart from Cleopatra and Antony there were only ten other dinner guests. Not knowing when Antony would call for food to be served, the cook was preparing the same meal, time and again, so that when the call came, the meat would go to the guests perfectly cooked.

According to Appian, himself a native of Alexandria, Antony dispensed with his military uniform and his general’s insignia, and wore a square-cut Greek tunic and white Attic boots. His family claimed descent from the mythological Greek figure Hercules, and now that he was wooing Cleopatra, who was herself of Greek heritage, he took every opportunity to advertise his Greek connections. And, totally trusting of Cleopatra, he let his bodyguards idle in their quarters and went about without an escort.

Cleopatra was with Antony day and night. She drank and ate with him, she played dice with him, she hunted and fished with him, and when he undertook his daily weapons training she was there, watching and admiring. She quickly talked him out of his plan to invade Parthia. Cleopatra was looking for a new Caesar, a man alongside whom she could rule the world. What Antony needed to concentrate on, she told him, was overthrowing the other triumvirs and gaining control of the Roman Empire for himself. Marcus Lepidus, Antony knew, could easily be elbowed aside; he had only been brought into the triumvirate for the sake of appearances. But the powerful young Octavian was a much more difficult opponent. In 44 B.C. Antony had made the mistake of underestimating the then eighteen-year-old Octavian when the youth had turned up at Rome to claim his inheritance from the assassinated Caesar. Octavian was wiser and more cunning than men three times his age, and Antony’s initial grab for power at Rome had failed because of the young man’s maneuvering. Antony had been forced to settle for the three-way sharing of power with Octavian and Lepidus. But now, at Cleopatra’s urging, Antony began to see a singular role for himself.

Ignoring reports that Parthian forces were massing in Mesopotamia to the east of Syria—assuming this was merely in response to rumors of Antony’s planned invasion of Parthia—Antony focused on Italy and Octavian. The officers on Antony’s staff advised against opposing Octavian, and warned him of the danger posed by the Parthian buildup in Mesopotamia. But he ignored them; Antony had ears only for Cleopatra. Antony’s quaestor—his quartermaster and chief financial officer—Lucius Philippus Barbatius, was so disgusted with his commander that he quit his post and sailed for Italy, where he would work against Antony’s interests. Meanwhile, Antony’s legions, including the 3rd Gallica, maintained their positions in Bithynia. From there they could march on Italy if the need arose, to support Antony’s latest bid for power.

General Quintus Labienus sat in the old Seleucid palace at Antioch, capital of Syria, posing for a Greek portraitist who was sketching his profile. Not so long ago Labienus had been a stateless youth, a man with a price on his head, on the run from Mark Antony. Now he was the conqueror of Syria, and his troops had hailed him imperator. This ancient title, which literally meant “chief ” or “master,” had much symbolic meaning. In time mutating into the word “emperor,” it was a title bestowed on victorious Roman generals by their troops. Both Pompey and Caesar had been awarded the honor. So, too, had Mark Antony, who began his letters with the title. And now Labienus, only in his twenties, had the title and the victory to match Antony. Now that he occupied Antioch, young Labienus ordered his treasurer to mint gold coins for his troops when the time came to pay them in October. On those coins would be stamped young Labienus’s image, from the sketch now being drawn, and his name, added to which would be two titles: “IMP,” for imperator, and “Parthicus.” At any other time, the Parthicus title would signify a Roman general who had defeated the Parthians. But Labienus had just succeeded in taking Syria from Mark Antony—at the head of a Parthian army.

The previous fall, just before the Battles of Philippi, young Quintus Labienus, then a mere Roman tribune on the staff of Liberators Brutus and Cassius, had crossed the Euphrates River in search of Orodes II, king of the Parthians. The Parthians were a nation that had grown out of the Parni, a tribe of nomadic horsemen who had built a rich empire astride most of the trade routes from the Far East to the Roman world. Labienus had been sent by the Liberators to plead for more military aid against Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus. Orodes, a member of the ruling Arsacid royal house, had previously permitted a contingent of Parthian horse archers to join the Liberators, and they were among four thousand mounted archers from Media, Arabia, and Parthia riding for brothers-in-law Brutus and Cassius by the summer of 41 B.C. But the Liberators, knowing how devastatingly effective the Parthian horse archers could be, after Cassius had faced them during the famous defeat at Carrhae, wanted many more of them.

Although he was young—only about twenty-two at that time—Colonel Labienus was an excellent choice for the mission to Parthia. With a long nose; thick, curly hair; and a beetled brow, Labienus was not handsome, but he was bright and energetic. More importantly, he had a famous father—Major General Titus Labienus, Caesar’s brilliant and brave second in command, and later Pompey’s general of cavalry after Labienus changed sides early in the civil war. Both Pompey and Labienus Sr. had been feared and respected by the Parthians. When young Quintus Labienus was escorted into the presence of the Parthian king, old Orodes had given the young Roman a hearing—he knew that Brutus and Cassius might end up controlling the Roman Empire. Orodes kept Labienus waiting frustrating weeks at his court without answering him. And then, in November, crushing news had reached Parthia, telling of the defeat of Cassius and Brutus in the Philippi battles.

Aware that Labienus would be a wanted man in Roman territory, Orodes had subsequently given the young Roman sanctuary at his court. In early 40 B.C., once he learned that Antony had fallen for Cleopatra and had withdrawn to Egypt, and with news coming of conflict between Antony’s family and Octavian in Italy, Labienus had begun to work on the Parthian monarch, suggesting a very bold plan. Throughout their history, the Parthians had never shown an interest in conquering the Romans, or even of taking large slices of Roman territory for themselves. But they were constantly made nervous by the aggressive Romans, and never failed to fight them if they threatened Parthian territory. As recently as 53 B.C. they had destroyed a Roman army under the consul Marcus Crassus when he invaded Parthia, and two years later they had made a brief incursion into Syria. They were always looking to control states that bordered Parthian territory, to create a buffer zone between themselves and the Romans. Now, Labienus suggested, with Antony distracted and with only small Roman garrisons in Syria, here was an opportunity to seize Syria and other Roman provinces in the East, creating a massive buffer against Roman expansion.

Appreciating the opportunity, Orodes had assembled an army in Mesopotamia under the command of his eldest son, Pacorus. This Parthian prince was apparently in his thirties. Pacorus had been involved in a major military expedition in his twenties and was an excellent soldier. He was also extremely well liked by all classes for his pleasant manner and sense of fairness, and was the apple of his father’s eye. Realizing that to win popular support in the Roman provinces the invaders must be seen to have a Roman leader, Orodes appointed young Quintus Labienus, sponsor of the idea, joint commander with Pacorus. This Parthian invasion force led by Pacorus and Labienus consisted entirely of mounted troops. It numbered about ten thousand men, the same size as the army that had defeated Crassus’s legions thirteen years before.

In the spring of 40 B.C., this Parthian army had crossed the Euphrates River at Zeugma, east of the Syrian city of Apamea, unopposed. The town of Zeugma straddled the Euphrates at a narrow canyon, with its administrative center on the Syrian side and suburbs on the Parthian side. With the aid of local boatmen, the Parthian army was quickly ferried across. Taking the province entirely by surprise, the Parthians quickly surrounded Apamea, a 260-year-old garrison city and eastern crossroads, which sat on the right bank of the Orontes River overlooking the Ghab Valley. The Roman commander at Apamea was the quaestor Decidius Saxa, younger brother of Mark Antony’s governor of Syria, Major General Lucius Decidius Saxa. The younger Saxa, in his early thirties and serving as financial deputy to his brother, closed the city gates and refused to surrender Apamea when Labienus demanded its submission.

The governor, General Saxa, who had been one of two generals commanding Antony and Octavian’s advance force in Macedonia at the time of the Philippi battles, marched from Antioch, which lay farther west on the Orontes. He arrived with a force of infantry and cavalry, and met Labienus in a pitched battle in open country. Saxa attempted to use his auxiliary cavalry against Labienus’s Parthians. But his mounted troops were no match for the Parthian cavalry. Labienus’s horse archers drilled their opponents with arrows; then the heavy cavalry moved in for the kill and mowed them down. Saxa and his infantry retreated behind the walls and trenches of their marching camp. In the night, Labienus had Parthian bowmen send thousands of leaflets flying into the camp attached to arrows. Those leaflets urged the Romans to come over to Labienus’s side, and when General Saxa saw the mood of his surrounded men change in favor of Labienus, he broke out of the camp in the darkness. With a few supporters, Saxa fled back to Antioch. Behind him, his men went over to young Labienus.

Labienus returned to Apamea, which Pacorus was still besieging. The Roman garrison, now thinking General Saxa dead, went over to Labienus. Saxa’s defiant younger brother was handed over to the Parthians and executed. Labienus then advanced along the Orontes and surrounded Antioch. When the city agreed to peace terms, General Saxa again fled, this time heading northwest, toward Cilicia. The Antioch garrison then also joined Labienus. Every city and town in Syria but one had soon gone over to the invaders. The exception was Tyre. Here, Antony’s last supporters and loyal Tyrians combined to stubbornly hold out. Because the Parthian besiegers had no naval support, the Tyre garrison was able to get in fresh supplies by sea. Sending a ship to Antony in Alexandria pleading for him to come to their aid, they prepared for a long siege.

Now, with Labienus resident at the palace of the Seleucid monarchs at Antioch and enjoying his newly won power, a message from Jerusalem reached his co-commander, the Parthian prince Pacorus. It was from Antigonus, ambitious nephew of Hyrcanus, Jewish high priest. Antigonus promised a vast sum in gold and five hundred Jewish women to Pacorus if he used his forces to depose Hyrcanus.

Pacorus and Labienus now agreed on their tactics. The Parthian army was divided in three. One part would accompany Labienus and the foot soldiers he had won over in Syria as he advanced northwest into Cilicia. His objective was to roll up all the Roman provinces east of Greece, hoping that the garrisons in his path would come over to him as those in Syria had done. Antony’s legions, including the 3rd Gallica, were the only unknown quantity as far as Labienus was concerned. Sitting immobile in Bithynia while their commander in chief caroused in Egypt, they represented the most powerful card in the game. Labienus was hoping that he would be able to convince Antony’s legions to abandon him the way he had abandoned them for Cleopatra.

The second force, made up entirely of cavalry under Prince Pacorus, was to advance down Judea’s Maritime Plain. At Joppa it would swing up into the hills and advance on Jerusalem from the northwest. The third force, also made up of Parthian cavalry and led by the Parthian general Barzaphanes, would sweep down through central Judea, follow the Jordan River as far as Jericho, then advance on Jerusalem through the hills from the northeast. The two Parthian forces would then link up outside Jerusalem and occupy the city, bringing Judea into the Parthian fold and installing Antigonus as their puppet ruler there. With the invasion just weeks old and Syria now under Parthian control, the three forces moved off on their individual missions. With news of civil war and chaos in Italy, and with Mark Antony still partying with Cleopatra in Egypt, the co-commanders were confident of success.

Meanwhile, the men of the 3rd Gallica Legion, sitting idly at their camp in Bithynia, as they had been for months, with orders to stay where they were, wanted to know what was going on. They had heard that the Parthians had invaded Syria and Judea and had won swift victories. It hadn’t been meant to be like that—it was supposed to be the other way around, with the 3rd Gallica and its brother legions marching into Parthia with Mark Antony. Now Quintus Labienus was marching into Cilicia and drawing closer by the day. Why weren’t Antony’s legions being ordered to prepare to confront the invading upstart Labienus? And where in the name of Jove was Antony himself?

Two messages reached Mark Antony as he relaxed in Alexandria in the early spring of 40 B.C. Both made him sit up with a start. He already knew that the previous fall his brother Lucius had set off a revolt in Italy, urged on by Antony’s ambitious wife, Fulvia. After initially occupying Rome, being hailed by the populace, and being joined by thousands of retired soldiers from Antony’s former legions and many raw levies, Lucius had been bottled up in Perusia, modern Perugia in central Italy, north of Rome, by Octavian’s forces. While Octavian himself would say in his memoirs that he felt Lucius was doing Antony’s bidding, ancient authorities were convinced that Antony had no prior knowledge of Lucius’s uprising. But if Lucius were to overthrow Octavian, Antony would not have objected. Antony had learned that generals staunchly loyal to the memory of Julius Caesar, and to Antony, including Publius Ventidius and Gaius Asinius Pollio, had led thirteen legions to Italy from Gaul, aiming to support Lucius.

But this latest news was not good. The relief forces had been prevented from getting through to Lucius by Octavian’s eleven legions. With the men of Lucius’s legions starving and unable to break through Octavian’s complex entrenchments surrounding Puglia after months of fighting, Lucius had surrendered, and the so-called Perusian War had come to an end. Octavian had pardoned Lucius Antony, and had sent him to command on his behalf in Spain. Fulvia had fled from Italy to Athens in Greece. And Lucius’s six legions were being shipped to North Africa.

The second dispatch informed Antony that the Parthian invasion of the Roman East was achieving spectacular success. The Parthian prince Pacorus had entered Jerusalem and installed Antigonus as high priest. Antigonus had sliced off the ears of his uncle, Hyrcanus, and sent him into captivity in Parthia. Herod and his brother Phasaelus had been taken prisoner; Phasaelus had committed suicide, but Herod and his family had escaped. Quintus Labienus’s forces, meanwhile, had marched through Cilicia and as far as Ionia and Lydia, with Greece tantalizingly close. Most cities and towns on his route had surrendered without a fight. Only the island city of Stratonicea was resisting, and was under siege by Labienus. General Saxa, Antony’s fugitive governor of Syria, had been tracked down by Labienus, captured, and executed.

Now Antony finally stirred himself into action. Provided with five warships by Cleopatra, he bade her good-bye and sailed for Syria, ostensibly to help the port city of Tyre, which was still holding out against Parthian siege. But as he was only accompanied by the one thousand men of his Praetorian Guard bodyguard cohort, he bypassed Tyre and left the Tyrians to their fate. Sailing on, Antony put in at Rhodes and then Cyprus, where he learned that Labienus was plundering cities and temples in the territories he had occupied to raise the gold to pay his troops. Still Antony’s eyes were on Italy. Ignoring Labienus and the Parthians, he sailed on and landed in northern Asia. There he sent for the two hundred warships he had ordered built the previous year. Once the ships arrived, Antony took some of his legionaries from Bithynia on board, but the bulk of his troops he ordered to cross the Hellespont to Macedonia, away from Labienus and the Parthians, to await further orders there. It is likely that his six legions were sent to a base Caesar had created in Macedonia in 45-44 B.C. in preparation for his aborted Parthian campaign. Antony himself sailed to Greece with his massive fleet, then proceeded overland to Athens.

Antony’s wife, Fulvia, was waiting for him at Athens, and we can only imagine the confrontation when they met. Ancient authorities say that the ambitious Fulvia had encouraged Lucius to revolt because she was jealous of Cleopatra’s influence over Antony, and had been determined to become the major power broker, and sideline Cleopatra. Antony, meanwhile, blamed Fulvia for Lucius’s failed revolt, which reflected badly on him. Exploding into a rage, Antony is reputed by ancient authorities to have vented his anger on his wife. In Athens, Antony was joined by Julia, his influential mother. After her son Lucius’s surrender, Julia had initially fled to Sicily, which had been taken over by Sextus Pompey, youngest and only surviving son of Pompey the Great. Sextus had provided ships to take her to Greece, and senior members of Sextus’s staff who accompanied her told Antony that their master was prepared to enter into an alliance with him against Octavian. Antony responded that if he did go to war against Octavian he would indeed ally himself with young Pompey.

As Antony spent the summer in Athens, a number of Antony’s supporters flooded to him from Italy. They brought news that Generals Ventidius and Pollio had assembled their legions at strategic coastal cities in Italy and were urging Antony to come and launch his own bid to overthrow Octavian. At the beginning of spring, Fulvia suddenly took ill. Leaving her in Greece, Antony sailed from the island of Corfu with his two hundred warships, bound for Italy and a showdown with Octavian. In the Adriatic he was met by Admiral Domitius Ahenobarbus, who had previously fought for the Liberators and had been something of a pirate since their deaths. Won over to Antony’s side by General Ventidius, Ahenobarbus now allied his ships and troops to Antony. Landing at the key naval city of Brundisium, modern Brindisi, Antony linked up with friendly troops waiting nearby and lay siege to Brindisi, also sending forces along the Italian coast to seize other cities. At the same time he sent word to Sextus Pompey to act in accordance with their agreement. In response, Sextus’s forces landed on Sardinia and wrested it from the two legions holding the island for Octavian, and Sextus himself commenced operations against Italy’s southwestern coast from bases he had established on Sicily.

As Antony continued the siege of Brindisi, he sent orders to Macedonia for his legions, including the 3rd Gallica, to hurry across Greece to the Adriatic coast, where his warships would ferry them over the Otranto Strait to join him. As Octavian closed around Brindisi with forces that substantially outnumbered Antony’s, and with Octavian’s best general, Marcus Agrippa, forcing Antony’s troops to retreat elsewhere, Antony resorted to subterfuge. Each night he sent ships away from Brindisi in the darkness carrying civilian passengers. Next day those ships would return and land the civilians, armed and dressed as soldiers, to let Octavian’s troops at Brindisi think that he was progressively receiving his best troops from Macedonia.

News now arrived from Greece that Fulvia had died. According to the Roman historian Appian, she had fallen sick because she could not endure Antony’s anger with her and had subsequently wasted away with grief because he had refused to see her on her sickbed. Shortly after Fulvia’s death, an intermediary from Octavian went to Antony’s mother, Julia, at Athens, and urged her to have her son come to the peace table with Octavian. The intermediary went to Antony with the same proposal, and when his mother supported the approach, Antony agreed. Now beyond Cleopatra’s influence, Antony concluded that Octavian had far too much support in Italy for him to overthrow him, and contented himself with sharing power and ruling the East.

Sending Admiral Ahenobarbus, who was despised by Octavian, away to Bithynia to become its governor, and telling Sextus Pompey to withdraw to Sicily and let him sort out matters with Octavian, Antony met Octavian at Brindisi. Together they ironed out a new five-year triumval agreement. Octavian would control the Roman empire in the West, Antony all the empire east of today’s Albania. Marcus Lepidus was left with just two provinces in North Africa. Octavian and Antony next met with Sextus Pompey at Misenum and sealed a peace deal that gave him control of Sicily, Sardinia, and Achaea in Greece, and promised him a consulship. In return, Sextus promised to marry his young daughter to Octavian’s nephew once she was of marrying age.

Now, to cement their alliance, Octavian betrothed his elder sister Octavia to Antony. Octavia, whose husband had recently died, was apparently no beauty, but she was an intelligent and honorable woman, and it seems Antony genuinely had affection for her. They quickly married, and Octavia promptly fell pregnant. Now, as Antony and Octavian were feted in Rome for their peace deal, Antony set the ball rolling to recover his eastern domains. Now that Herod had arrived from Judea after escaping the Parthians, he had the Senate decree Herod king of Judea and declare Antigonus, self-proclaimed Jewish high priest at Jerusalem, an enemy of Rome. Herod was then provided with a ship to take him back to the Middle East so he could raise a local force against Antigonus. Anthony’s handy envoy Quintus Dellius went along as a Roman adviser.

Now, too, Antony ordered Publius Ventidius, his finest general and loyal friend, to take the best Antonian legions, including the 3rd Gallica, and throw Labienus and the Parthians out of Rome’s eastern provinces and install Herod as king of Judea in accordance with the Senate’s decree. Ventidius quickly sailed for Greece. The 3rd Gallica Legion, marching west along the Egnatian Way across northern Greece with five fellow Antonian legions to join Antony in Italy, was met on the march by Ventidius. He ordered them to turn around and head for Asia, with him at their head. The men of the Gallica would at last get their opportunity to fight the Parthians.


After being ferried across the Hellespont by the small craft that plied the narrow strait between Thrace and Asia, and ignoring the winter weather, the men of the 3rd Gallica were pushing down through the valleys of the province of Asia at a steady eighteen to twenty miles a day. They had been spoiling for a fight for close to twelve months, chafing to go after the traitor Quintus Labienus and his Parthian friends and reclaim the East for Rome, and soon they would come to grips with both.

The legion’s numbers had been reduced by casualties in the Philippi battles and by sickness, so it was down on its original strength of six thousand men. There were four thousand to five thousand of them now, in ten cohorts, or companies, led by six young tribunes. Real power within the legion was vested in its sixty centurions, midranking officers promoted through the ranks after years of service. Many of the 3rd Gallica’s centurions had served in the previous enlistment of the legion, Pompey’s 3rd Legion, and had seen plenty of bloody battles in Portugal and Spain and piled up a small fortune in pay, bonuses, and booty before Julius Caesar paid them off in 49 B.C. Now, ten years later, these centurions were still fit, and ready for a fight. Some were in their fifties, having previously served Pompey in other units, in other wars. Others were in their thirties and forties. Most of the rank and file were in their late twenties or early thirties. The youngest of them had joined the legion at age seventeen and now were approaching twenty-seven. They were a colorful mixture: farm boys and fishermen, unemployed workmen and petty thieves, cobblers, boat builders, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths; they had all brought their peacetime skills to the legion, and all had gone through tough training at the hands of even tougher centurions.

Now they all looked the same, clad in the blood-red woolen tunic and red cloak worn by all Rome’s legionaries. Every man was equipped with the familiar Roman helmet that looked like a modern-day jockey’s cap, with the addition of a plume of yellow horsehair. On the march, it was slung around the neck. Every man sported a thick leather vest covered by thousands of ringlets of iron mail that extended to the knees. This mail was weighty, and contributed to the description of legionaries as “heavy infantry.” Slung over their left shoulders were their shields—wooden, rectangular, curved, almost as big as a man, and reinforced with iron. Every shield of the 3rd Gallica carried the legion’s symbol, the charging bull. The bull was a symbol common to legions that had served Julius Caesar, and this enlistment of the legion had been raised by Caesar’s recruiting officers. On their waist hung their “short” weapons, the twenty-inch gladius, a short sword with a pointed end, in a scabbard on the right hip, and a puglio, or dagger, on the left. Over their right shoulders they carried poles from which hung their packs, containing entrenching tools, personal items, bravery decorations, and rations. Strapped to each carrying pole were several javelins and two sharp wooden pickets. The thousands of pickets carried by the men of the legion were used to top the earthen wall surrounding the marching camp the legion built every night when they were on the march and were retrieved the next morning when the legion “upped stakes” and moved on.

Ahead and behind them marched the other legions of Mark Antony’s eastern army—the 3rd Cyrenaica, the 4th Macedonica, the 5th Macedonica, the 10th, and the most famous of them all, the 6th Ferrata. Ferrata means “ironclad”—it was a title the men of the last enlistment of the 6th had given themselves after winning battle after battle for Julius Caesar. They had conquered Egypt for him, and defeated the Bosporan army of King Pharnaces at Zela, after which Caesar was to say that he came, he saw, and he conquered.

Antony’s troops were in good spirits. They were finally going after the Parthians who had invaded the Roman East and shamed Romans everywhere. And their general was a man they identified with. Unlike most Roman generals, who came from aristocratic families, Lieutenant General Publius Ventidius’s background was as humble as that of the soldiers he led. Now close to seventy years of age, Ventidius had been born in Asculum Picenum, today’s Ascoli Piceno in eastern Italy, to a family of commoners. Between 90 and 88 B.C., when he was a young man, the Social War had been waged against Rome by her allies in Italy, and Ventidius had served in the ranks of forces sent against Rome by his hometown. Captured by Roman general Pompeius Strabo, father of Pompey the Great, young Ventidius had been paraded through the streets of Rome in Strabo’s subsequent Triumph. As it turned out, the war proved beneficial to Ventidius. Freed in the amnesty following the war’s end, Ventidius had found himself a Roman citizen, for, among the peace terms, Rome granted Roman citizenship to the allied states, a move that brought all of Italy south of the Po River into the Roman fold.

For a number of years Ventidius made a tidy living selling mules to the Roman army—later, his detractors would call him “the muleteer.” He sided with Julius Caesar during the civil war, and in 44 B.C. Caesar appointed him a praetor, a judge with the equivalent military rank of a major general, for the coming year. Immediately after Caesar’s murder, Ventidius had supported Anthony, putting together a force of three legions for him in Italy. That support had never wavered, and had earned him a consulship at Antony’s behest and his current military appointment.

Now Ventidius was scouting well ahead of the main column, heading south with the cavalry and auxiliary light infantry as he looked for Quintus Labienus. The exact numbers in General Ventidius’s advance force are unknown, but three years later Mark Antony would have six thousand auxiliary cavalry from Gaul and Spain under his command in the East. A good part of that force was almost certainly here with Ventidius now as he drove down through Asia. These troopers had been riding for Rome for years. Recruited by Caesar, they were not Roman citizens. They served under tribal obligation to Rome, and for pay. Some had fought for both Caesar and Pompey during the civil war, some had even ridden with Quintus Labienus’s father. All had fought at Philippi and were experienced horsemen and fighters. The noncitizen auxiliaries of the light infantry, who included archers and slingers, were locals from Greece, Crete, Cyprus, Asia, and Syria numbering two thousand or three thousand.

As the advance force forged ahead, the men of the 3rd Gallica and the five other legions were coming along behind with the baggage train. This was made up of thousands of pack mules—a minimum of one for every ten legionaries, and hundreds of wagons carrying the army’s heavy equipment, from tents to artillery, ammunition, grinding stones, and carpentry tools as well as water clocks and the officers’ furniture and silver dining plate.

The target of their operation, young Quintus Labienus, was in Cilicia. When the winter of 40-39 B.C. arrived, the youthful conqueror had pulled out of the siege of Stratonicea and taken up residence in Cilicia, intending to remain there until the spring. As his troops likewise went into winter camp at their various garrisons and hung up sword and shield until the next spring, his Parthian allies had withdrawn into Syria.

The sudden news that General Ventidius and a Roman flying column were pushing into Cilicia shocked Labienus to the core. The last he had heard, Ventidius had been in Italy, embroiled in the turmoil involving Antony, Octavian, and Sextus Pompey. With only his own local troops to rely on, Labienus packed up and left, withdrawing ahead of Ventidius, summoning his men from their various garrisons throughout the region, and sending messengers galloping into Syria to bring Parthian cavalry to his support.

As Labienus camped at Mount Amanus and waited for Parthian reinforcements from east of the Taurus Mountains, Ventidius arrived with his advance force and made camp nearby on high, sloping ground. Now Ventidius also waited—for the arrival of the 3rd Gallica and his other legions. There, in the hills, the two forces passed several nervous days, eyeing each other from their camps.

When the six Roman legions came marching up the valley and linked with their general, their troops began unloading their equipment at the campsite marked out beside Ventidius’s advance camp. A legion camp was dug by its legionaries, who carried entrenching tools for the job. No slaves or auxiliaries were permitted to be involved. An advance surveying party led by a tribune had found the best location for the camp, and set out marker flags indicating the grid pattern streets of the camp and exactly where every line of tents was to be erected when the legions arrived. On General Ventidius’s orders, to make it difficult for Parthian heavy cavalry to get to them, this Mount Amanus campsite was on high ground, surrounded by angling slopes.

The legionaries were soon hard at work constructing their camp, some digging, some working with timber. “No matter where this is done,” wrote 2nd century B.C. Greek historian Polybius, who documented Roman legion habits, “one simple formula for a camp is employed.” The square or rectangular camp was surrounded by a trench dug by the legionaries; it was typically ten feet deep and three feet across. The earth from the trench was used to create a ten-foot wall inside the trench, and on top of this were planted the pointed stakes carried by every man. The legions’ artillery—light, arrow-throwing catapults and heavier, stone-throwing “engines”—was mounted on the walls. There was a gate in each of the four walls. The main gate, the “decuman gate,” faced away from the enemy. Wooden guard towers rose beside each wooden gate. One cohort from each of the six legions was assigned to guard duty, and at sunset every night a password for the next twenty-four hours was issued by the army commander. In the night, the watch changed precisely every three hours at the sound of a trumpet call.

In the afternoon, while the legions worked on their camp, a large force of Parthian cavalry arrived from the east and set up a camp separate from Quintus Labienus’s camp. The identity of the Parthian commander here is unknown, but it wasn’t Prince Pacorus; he was still back in Syria. Likewise, the number of Parthian cavalrymen in this force is not known, but according to Roman historian Cassius Dio, they held the Roman troops in contempt because of their own vast number. We know that Pacorus had left just two hundred of his cavalrymen stationed at Jerusalem, which, being twenty-five hundred feet above sea level, was frequently snow-covered in winter. The vast majority of the men in the Parthian occupying army were down in Syria over this winter, enjoying the milder climate beside the Jordan River. Allowing for some men remaining with Pacorus in Syria, the size of the force that joined Labienus would have numbered five thousand to eight thousand cavalrymen.

Far from quaking at the sight, the men of the 3rd Gallica, sweating as they dug their trenches and erected the tents and other facilities of the camp, would have smiled to themselves. This was what they had been waiting for, a chance to come to grips with the Parthians, the old enemy who had humiliated Rome at Carrhae fourteen years before. These were not the wastelands of Mesopotamia, where Crassus and twenty thousand of his men had died and ten thousand had been taken prisoner. This was mountain country, a different battleground altogether, terrain where legionaries were at no disadvantage. Knowing what the next day was likely to bring, they would have gone to their beds that night keyed up and expectant. Some, lying on bedrolls on the hard ground in their ten-man tents, would not have slept a wink as they thought about the difficulties entailed in taking on the Parthian cavalry the next day. But the Romans had a saying “Nothing is difficult to the brave and the faithful,” and many more legionaries, believing in their own courage and ability and in their general, would have snored all night.

Well before dawn the next day, the general’s trumpeter had sounded reveille, and the call was swiftly repeated by all the trumpeters of all the cohorts of the legions. “Assembly” was sounded soon after, summoning the legionaries. They had slept in their equipment, and only had to take a sip of water and pull on helmets and take up shields and javelins from the weapons stacks outside their tent doors before they formed up at attention in their units on the parade square. “At ease,” sounded the trumpets. General Ventidius climbed the few steps onto the camp’s raised tribunal, built from layers of turf, in front of his assembled legions. His adjutant, the nuntius—literally the “announcer”—took his place to the general’s right.

“Hail, General!” bellowed thousands of legionaries. Many men also applauded.

There, in the light of flickering lamps, Ventidius informed his troops that today they would go against the Parthians, as they had expected, and today they would be victorious and make the enemy from the East pay for the humiliation at Carrhae. The legions roared their approval. In Daily Orders announced by the general’s adjutant, the legions learned precisely where they were to go in Ventidius’s battle formation, and of the tactics Ventidius planned for the day, of the signals they should expect, and when.

As the sun rose over the mountains, the legions silently marched from camp behind their standards, and drew up in the ordained battle order on uneven but open ground outside the camp walls. Following Julius Caesar’s practice, their battle formation would have involved three lines, with every legion’s ten cohorts or companies split through the line, with four cohorts in the first line and three in each of the two lines behind, with a gap between each line. Each century within each cohort lined up with ten men to the front, and its centurion on the extreme left of the very first rank. The remaining members of the century lined up directly behind each man in front. If the cohort was at full strength, the century was ten men deep. The eagle-bearer of the 3rd Gallica, proudly carrying aloft the silver eagle standard of the legion, retired to the open space between the first and second lines, where he was joined by the boy trumpeters of the first-line cohorts. Every soldier in the ranks who had earned a bravery decoration during his career was probably wearing it—Caesar had liked his men to wear their decorations into battle, to inspire them and to awe the enemy.

Ventidius seems to have assigned his auxiliary light infantry the task of guarding his camp. Having heard how General Saxa had so disastrously thrown his cavalry at the Parthians in Syria the previous year, Ventidius ordered his cavalry commander, Brigadier General Quintus Pompaedius Silo, to hold his cavalry on the wings of the infantry battle lines and let their infantry blunt the enemy attack.

In the Parthian camp, the cavalry mounted as the sun began to rise. The Parthians employed two types of cavalry—heavy and light. Their heavy cavalrymen, called cataphracts by the Greeks, were bearded noblemen. They wore armor that covered their entire bodies. On arms and legs it was made up of overlapping leather segments wrapped around the limb. On the torso it consisted of a sleeveless jacket onto which were sewn pieces of metal. In some cases these were chain mail vests not dissimilar to those worn by Rome’s legionaries. Some noblemen could afford even more elaborate armor, with their jackets covered with overlapping “fish scales” of bronze and iron. On their heads they wore a pointy-topped metal helmet that usually trailed a streamer or two. The cataphract’s principal weapon was the kontos, a lance some nine feet long. On his belt he wore a sheathed sword, or an ax, and many cataphracts also carried a small bow in a quiver slung over the back. Not only was the rider armored, his horse also was covered in a coat of leather onto which was sewn fish scale bronze or iron armor. The horse armor, which extended almost to the ground, covered most of the animal’s head; only the ears, nose, and mouth were exposed. Even the horse’s eyes had small iron grids over them for protection. Not surprisingly, the cataphract’s horse had to be large and strong to carry both its own armor and its armored rider.

Numerically, horse-archers made up the largest component of the Parthian cavalry army. At the Battle of Carrhae there had been eight horse archers to each heavy cavalryman, and the balance was much the same here at Mount Amanus. Parthian horse archer ranks were made up of the servants of nobles and also of slaves. They wore no armor, just highly embroidered jackets and baggy leggings, a cloth cap, and solid leather boots. Each was armed with two short swords, with one strapped to each leg, and a bow made from a composite of bone and wood. Hanging on his horse’s left side was an ornate quiver filled with arrows about three feet long. His horse, which carried no protection, was small and fast.

The Parthian cavalry formed in loose formation outside their camp, with horse archers to the front and cataphracts in the rear. Horses, made restless by riders who were by turns nervous and excited, pawed the ground, neighed, and had to be reassured and calmed. Seeing that Quintus Labienus’s troops were slow to come out of their camp to join them, and seeing General Ventidius’s legions formed on the hilltop and waiting for them, the Parthians did not bother to wait to join forces with Labienus’s infantry. Although the Parthians did possess militia foot soldiers back home, the cavalry were accustomed to operating without infantry support. Besides, they had little respect for Labienus’s infantry, being both Romans and turncoats. Instead, the Parthians moved out and rode to the base of the hill where, above, Ventidius’s Romans stood silently in their ranks. The morning breeze wafted the Roman helmet crests and ruffled the purple cloth consular standard of their general.

Skirting around to the side of the hill that offered the easiest access, to the southwest, the exuberant Parthians urged each other to great deeds this day and prepared to charge. In the Parthians’ rear, mounted drummers began to pound out an ominous beat. Despite all the Hollywood movies showing Roman armies and parade participants marching to beating drums, apart from small hand-held drums used by women in religious festivals the Romans never employed drums for military or ceremonial purposes. The Parthians, on the other hand, were famed for their war drums. Up on the hill, the men of the 3rd Gallica heard the booming enemy drums, and their heart rate increased a little. Around the campfires outside every tent the night before they had boasted of how they would revenge Crassus and his legions. The moment of truth was drawing nearer by the minute.

We don’t know the positions of individual legions in Ventidius’s battle formation. He probably gave the famous 6th Ferrata the honored right wing. Honored it may have been, but it was also the most dangerous location—legionaries held their shields on their left side, exposing their right, and many a general attacked the opposition’s right wing as a consequence. The 3rd Gallica was either on the left wing or was one of the four legions in the middle of the line.


The legionaries knew what to expect from the Parthians. Cassius, the late Liberator, had been Crassus’s quaestor at Carrhae and had led ten thousand survivors of the Carrhae disaster back to safety in Syria in 53 B.C. One or two centurions now in Ventidius’s army would have been among those survivors, and they would have briefed their comrades on Parthian cavalry tactics. The horse archers would charge, firing arrows as they came. Fifty feet from the Roman front line they would turn right, and, riding along the front line, they would continue firing before turning away at the completion of their attack run. They would always turn right, because the Parthian always fired his bow from his left. The Gallicans would have been warned not to relax when the horse archer turned away—he was expert at turning in the saddle and firing behind him as he withdrew. This was the famous Parthian Shot. Once the horse archers had softened up the Romans, the heavy cavalry would advance and engage them with their lances. In his Daily Orders, General Ventidius had issued specific orders on how he wanted his men to counter the Parthian tactics. Now the legionaries waited impatiently to employ those tactics.

The Parthians, milling at the bottom of the hill with rising excitement as their drums pounded, had expected Ventidius’s legions to come down the hill to meet them. But the legionaries were as immobile as statues. The Parthians were brimming with confidence. Many of them had fought at Carrhae. Then, there had been ten thousand of them, against forty thousand Romans. Here, the Roman legions numbered only twenty-five thousand to thirty thousand men, while they themselves had almost as many cavalry as at Carrhae. And here the legions were led by an old man of no military repute, an old man whom the Romans themselves called “the mule-driver.” Victory seemed assured. As the drums continued to beat behind them, their commander gave an order and the first waves of the thousands of Parthian horses archers urged their horse forward and began to make their way up the slope.

On the hilltop, astride a horse, General Ventidius issued an order of his own. His trumpeter blew “Ready.” All through the battle lines, sixty cohort trumpets repeated the signal. Legionaries in the front line planted one javelin in the ground in front of them, took a grip on a second with their right hand, and planted their feet in a throwing stance as the first horsemen came up the hill toward them.

The Parthian archers came with bows ready and several arrows in hand, riding in a vast, loose wedge formation, which, ironically, was one of the formations the Roman legions used against cavalry attack. One hundred yards from the Roman front line the horsemen kicked their steeds into a gallop. The thousands of horse archers charged, the leading riders firing as they came. The charge made the ground vibrate beneath the feet of the legionaries. Holding their positions, the Romans raised their shields to receive the showers of arrows. Parthian bows had such fire-power that at close range their arrows could pin a legionary’s foot to the ground or pass through a shield the thickness of a man’s hand.

And then trumpets were signaling “Loose.” The Roman front line launched their javelins down the hill. “Loose” was sounded a second time. A second wave of javelins flew. Then “Close order” sounded, and the legionaries of the front line closed the gaps between them. It was methodical, it was machinelike.

Fifty yards from the Roman lines, as a plague of javelins landed in the earth just ahead of them, the first horse archers were turning right and running along the battlefront, firing as they went. Then they were arcing away. Suddenly General Ventidius’s standard dipped and his trumpet sounded. Roman trumpets behind the front line blared the same signal in unison: “Charge.” It was a command the legionaries had been expecting. With a roar, the front line dashed forward. The downhill run increased their speed and their impetus. With a clash of metal, leather, wood, and flesh they collided with surprised horse archers on the run. The two sides were suddenly locked together. Legionaries bent and slashed with their swords, hamstringing enemy horses. Riders were cut down, knocked flying by shields, or pulled from their steeds. In some instances, Roman legionaries lifted small Parthian riders from the backs of their horses and threw them back down the hillside into riders behind them.

Desperately, Parthians cast aside bows, which were useless at close quarters, and reached for their short swords. But without shield or armor, every horse archer was prey to the crushing Roman onslaught and death-dealing legionary swords. As horsemen at the front were taking the brunt of the Roman charge, those behind began to panic and attempted to turn back. Riders who did manage to turn crashed into cavalry coming up behind them, spilling many of their comrades from their saddles, then overrunning them. In their panic, Parthian cavalry killed and maimed as many of their own men as did the Roman legionaries.

In minutes, the hillside was a scene of slaughter and mayhem. Most of the heavy cataphracts coming up behind couldn’t get to the Romans for the sea of horse archers being pushed back down on the hill toward them, and even when they did, it was in a close-quarters melee in which many noblemen were soon unhorsed. Blind with terror as the unstoppable Roman legions came slicing down the hill, surviving Parthian horsemen galloped off down the valley. In their desire to escape, they rode away from the camp of their ally Labienus, not toward him, and into Cilicia.

Now General Ventidius ordered his entire force forward. He personally led the cavalry in chasing isolated Parthians toward Labienus’s camp. His troopers wanted to give chase as far as it took to kill every Parthian, but Ventidius called a halt outside the enemy’s infantry camp. The Roman general could see Quintus Labienus on the camp wall with his men. And it was the traitor Labienus whom Ventidius wanted. As his cavalry mopped up on the battlefield, the general waited outside Labienus’s camp with his legions in battle order, inviting him to come out and fight.

During the afternoon Labienus was seen to form his greatly outnumbered troops in battle order inside his camp. But the gates never opened. Unlike his father, who had nerves of steel and courage to spare, young Labienus’s nerve failed him, and he didn’t venture out to fight. Night fell, with the young man cringing in his camp. Setting up pickets around the camp, Ventidius marched his victorious army back up to their own hilltop camp.

During the night, deserters slipped over the walls of Labienus’s camp and came up the hill to Ventidius’s entrenchments. When they were brought to General Ventidius at his praetorium, his headquarters tent, they revealed that morale in Labienus’s camp had sunk to rock bottom and that Labienus himself was planning to break his troops out of his camp in groups in the darkness of the early morning. The deserters knew where and when most of these breakouts were to occur, and based on this information Ventidius sent detachments of legionaries to set up ambushes for Labienus’s men.

The information proved correct. And in the early hours of the next day the vast majority of Labienus’s Roman troops ran straight into the waiting ambushers and were killed or captured. Labienus’s own escape plan had not been made known, and he was able to slip by the waiting troops and disappear into the wilds of Cilicia wearing local peasant clothing.

The next day, after conducting an assembly at which numerous legionaries were presented with bravery decorations, as was the Roman custom following a victory, General Ventidius ordered his cavalry commander, General Silo, to take most of his cavalry east. Silo was to ride as far as the Cilician Gates, the narrow pass in the Taurus Mountains through which ran a military highway built on Julius Caesar’s orders and that led all the way to Antioch in Syria. While Silo set off to secure the pass, Ventidius marched the legions down to the city of Tarsus, where he arrested Labienus’s lackeys and took over administration of the province.

A price was put on Labienus’s head, and this naturally attracted bounty hunters. The governor of the island of Cyprus at this time, appointed by Mark Antony, was Demetrius, one of Julius Caesar’s former freedmen. Later that same year, learning from informants where Labienus was hiding in Cilicia, Demetrius crossed to the mainland, tracked Labienus down, and arrested him. We hear no more of young Quintus Labienus, briefly lord of the Roman East. Undoubtedly he was executed.

But well before Labienus was captured, General Ventidius received a desperate dispatch from his cavalry general. Silo was surrounded by Parthians at the Cilician Gates. Ventidius promptly dropped everything and marched with the legions to relieve Silo. The Cilician Gates pass had acquired its name from the wooden gates that had once blocked the way here. The gates were gone, but a sizable garrison of Parthian cavalry under Prince Pacorus’s deputy Pharnapates was now in place here. That garrison, bolstered by cavalrymen who had escaped from the Battle of Mount Amanus, had fallen on Silo’s unwary mounted column as it approached. Even though they outnumbered the Parthians, the Roman cavalrymen were no match for them and were soon in dire straits. Surrounded, their only hope was to hold out until General Ventidius arrived.

Fortunately for Silo, the arrival of Ventidius and the legions took his Parthian attackers completely by surprise. Coming up behind them, Ventidius’s legions slaughtered a large number of the Parthians, including Pharnapates, their commander. This battle, the Battle of the Cilician Gates, secured the pass. When news of Ventidius’s victories in Cilicia reached Pacorus in Syria, where he had set himself up as regent, the Parthian prince collected his remaining troops and withdrew across the Euphrates into Parthia to regroup.

In the spring, the 3rd Gallica marched into Syria with General Ventidius and the rest of his legions. But to their surprise they weren’t welcomed wholeheartedly by the people of Syria. Prince Pacorus, it turned out, had made himself very popular during his time in Syria because of his mildness and his justice. The Syrians, said Cassius Dio, came to hold Pacorus in as much affection as the greatest kings who had ever ruled them. Certainly no Roman governor had engendered as much affection in the twenty-five years since Pompey the Great had made Syria a province of Rome.

It soon became apparent to General Ventidius that if Pacorus led another Parthian army across the Euphrates, many in Syria would throw their support behind him. Ventidius set his mind to ridding Rome of the threat posed by the dashing prince.

The 3rd Gallica Legion was going against the Parthians again. It was now 38 B.C., and a year had passed since the legions had defeated Labienus and Pharnapates in Cilicia. And now wily old General Ventidius had lured Prince Pacorus into a trap.

Following his 39 B.C. victories, Ventidius had raised two new legions in Syria on Antony’s authority, partly from Labienus’s former men but mostly from new Syrian levies. As the winter of 39-38 B.C. had arrived, he sent all eight of his legions into winter camp around Syria and Cilicia. Early in 38 B.C., Ventidius had learned that Pacorus was assembling another Parthian army east of the Euphrates to again invade Syria. Having ascertained from spies that a Syrian noble named Channaeus was in contact with Pacorus, Ventidius wined and dined Channaeus. During their intimate conversations Ventidius seemingly let it slip that he was afraid that Pacorus would cross the Euphrates at a point in southern Syria where it was flat and suited to cavalry, rather than at nearby Zeugma once again—where the hilly terrain was suited to Roman infantry. That information had been duly passed to Pacorus, who, in the spring, took the bait and led his army many miles south, crossing the Euphrates into Syria just where General Ventidius wanted him to cross.

Ventidius had meanwhile summoned his legions. By invading in the south, Pacorus had given Ventidius valuable weeks in which to assemble his forces. Once Pacorus crossed the river, he pushed north without encountering resistance. Weeks into the invasion, entering the Cyrrhestica district of Syria, his scouts reported General Ventidius’s legions camped ahead, on the slopes of Mount Gindarus. Determined to destroy Ventidius, Pacorus marched to the mountain.

Ventidius, at assembly that morning, told his legionaries that Pacorus and his cavalry had fallen into his trap. Today, he said, Mars, god of war, would smile on them. The usual prebattle animal religious sacrifice had produced auspicious omens. Today the legions would destroy the Parthians. It was the will of the gods, for this was exactly the same day on which, fifteen years before, Marcus Crassus had died at the hands of the Parthians at Carrhae. Feeling that the foolish Parthians, lured into Ventidius’s trap, had no chance of victory, and that, as the Romans said, “Fools must be taught by the result,” the legions confidently formed in battle order on the slopes outside their camp.

The Parthians were full of bravado and rushed to the attack. Whether this charge was spontaneous or on Pacorus’s rash order we are not to know. Once again, Ventidius had claimed the high ground. Up the slope charged the Parthian horse archers. And once again, at the crucial moment General Ventidius ordered his legions to charge. Down the slope rushed the men of the 3rd Gallica and the other legions.

It was a repeat of the slaughter at the Battle of Mount Amanus. Horse archers, caught in close-quarters combat with the legionaries, were slaughtered. Others, driven back down the slope and panicking, crashed into companions in their desperation to escape, and fell or fled. Only the cataphract heavy cavalry, led by Pacorus himself, held their ground at the bottom of the hill. The legions swept down around them like a river at the flood. Vastly outnumbered by twenty or thirty to one, the nobles of the heavy cavalry were surrounded. But instead of sending his infantry against the well-armored Parthians, General Ventidius held the legionaries back and sent in his slingers.

Roman forces in the East used slingers from Crete and parts of Greece to great effect. These slingers, trained since childhood to protect sheep and goat herds from predators by using their slings, were deadly accurate with stones and lead bullets over remarkable distances, often up to several hundred yards. Their slingshot in fact had a greater effective range than Parthian arrows. But that was not a factor, now that the enemy horse archers had been put to flight. On high ground, Ventidius’s slingers were able to stand off and rain missiles down on the Parthians and their horses without any fear of return fire. The air was filled with clouds of projectiles, which came at the Parthians with a speed approaching that of modern-day rifle bullets—thousands of them.

The men of the 3rd Gallica and the other waiting legionaries watched with fascination. They heard the sound of slingshots in the air, like the hum of swarms of bees. They heard the rattle and clatter as the projectiles hit Parthian armor, heard cavalrymen cry out in pain and horses whinny in panic. And they watched the antics of the targets trying to avoid being hit. Laughter rolled through the Roman ranks. To the legionaries, this was as entertaining as watching a gladiatorial contest, but much more satisfying. Not only was this barrage disconcerting to the haughty Parthians, the slingshot also could take out an eye, human or equine, or cause bloody facial wounds. Horses reared and bucked. Riders swayed and ducked. And then suddenly Roman trumpets were sounding, the barrage lifted, and with a cheer the legions were charging in for the kill.

Made obvious by his standard, his large entourage, and his expensive armor, Prince Pacorus attracted the focus of the attack. Dragged from his horse, he went down under a crush of blows. His bodyguards fought desperately to save him, but when it was clear their prince was dead, they fought to prevent his body from falling into Roman hands. The legionaries pressed in. And then a cheer rang out from the legions as the last Parthian bodyguard also fell dead over his master’s corpse. With the flash of a sword, Pacorus’s head was severed. A centurion held the prince’s bloodied head aloft, bringing another triumphant, bloodthirsty roar from the men of the 3rd Gallica and their fellow legionaries.

Only now, when their commander was dead, did some of the Parthian nobles attempt to fight their way out of the encirclement. A few managed to bulldoze their way through atop ironclad steeds. Some turned south, following the retreating horse archers who were fleeing back toward the Euphrates crossing. Others galloped north; they would ride all the way to the mountainous, landlocked kingdom of Commagene. There they would seek asylum from its king, elderly Antiochus I, who was related by marriage to Parthia’s king—his daughter was Orodes’s wife, and their children his grandchildren.

Ventidius had anticipated that some Parthians would attempt to escape back the way they had come. He had regretted that so many had managed to get away after Mount Amanus, and this time he was prepared. To the south, Roman cavalry and infantry lay in wait, knowing what route enemy escapees could be expected to take. Cutting the fleeing Parthians off from the crossing across the Euphrates, they surprised and destroyed them.

Following a victory assembly, Ventidius dispatched the head of Prince Pacorus on a tour of Syria, to prove to Syrian leaders who had wavered in their loyalty to Rome that the Parthian royal was dead. The grim message had the desired effect. Syrian nobles rushed to congratulate the Roman general and vow their undying loyalty to Mark Antony and the Senate and people of Rome. It would be hundreds of years before a Syrian noble again challenged Roman authority in the province. The men of Ventidius’s legions, meanwhile, shared the rich booty from Pacorus’s baggage train, stripped the dead Parthians naked to sell their equipment to the traders who followed the legions wherever they went, and enjoyed the praise and awards lavished on them by their general.

Just a few weeks later, Ventidius received orders from Mark Antony in Athens, to send troops to reinforce King Herod in Judea. For two years Herod had battled the high priest Antigonus. Herod had gained control of Galilee with a sizable force of Galileean volunteers, but Antigonus had shut himself up inside Jerusalem with a large number of armed Jews. Now, too, General Ventidius learned that King Antiochus of Commagene was sheltering Parthian nobles who had escaped after the Battle of Mount Gindarus.

So Ventidius ordered the legions to prepare to march once more. The two newly recruited legions and a thousand cavalry were sent south to support Herod. The remainder of the Roman army—Ventidius’s six original legions and most of the cavalry and auxiliaries—was heading north, in pursuit of the escapees, and invading Commagene. Ventidius was going to ram home the point that Roman authority was once more stamped on the region.

The Principate Roman Army I

The gradual changes in the nature of the Roman army between the time of Tiberius and 235 certainly affected both Roman society and the empire’s internal power-struggles. Did they also affect Rome’s strength at the periphery? The really big changes were three, though they had all started well before Tiberius’ accession. The first was the regular organization of ‘auxiliary’ troops into quasi-permanent units in which they would normally serve for twenty-five years before being made Roman citizens on discharge, a system set up by Augustus and refined by his successors. As in centuries past, such troops often outnumbered the legionaries, and their effectiveness was of profound importance.

That leads, secondly, to the matter of recruitment. In the era of the civil wars of 49 to 31 bc, and under Augustus, provincials had entered the legions in large numbers. Recruits came from Roman-colonial or Romanized communities, but also from others: thus an inscription of the early Principate (ILS 2483) shows that almost all the soldiers in the two legions stationed in Egypt had been recruited in non-citizen communities in the eastern provinces (their lingua franca was Greek). All over the empire, the more Romanized provinces provided more and more of the legionaries, while Italians – who made up the bulk of the better-paid praetorian guard – provided fewer and fewer. The authorities were now quite willing in practice to recruit non-citizens, giving them citizenship when they were sworn in. This ‘provincialization’ probably reflected some Roman/Italian reluctance to serve (Italy was too prosperous) but also some intention on the emperors’ part to bring provincials into the mainstream. From Hadrian’s reign on, the normal pattern (though not in Britain) was to recruit legionaries in the provinces where they were needed, but from relatively Romanized/Hellenized elements (and legionaries were more likely than ‘auxiliaries’ to be literate). This was by and large a well-organized and disciplined force; and fighting spirit was probably not lacking either, at least down to Trajan’s time – when battle-commanders chose to entrust the initial impact of the fighting to ‘auxiliary’ units and keep the legionaries in reserve, a procedure that is first attested in a major battle at Idastaviso in Germany in AD 16 (Tacitus, Annals 2.16.3), there could be a variety of tactical reasons.

‘Auxiliary’ recruitment was quite different: the government concentrated on fringe areas such as Iberian Galicia and Thrace, simply supplying officers from the core area of the empire; such units were commonly posted away from their home areas, Britons for example in Upper Germany, while the auxilia in Britain itself might, for example, be Batavian or Syrian. Eventually, but unfortunately we do not know when, Rome also began to employ soldiers who are unlikely to have felt themselves to be Roman subjects: Marcus sent 5,500 cavalry of the Transdanubian Iazyges, whom he had just subdued, to serve in Britain (Dio 71.16). There were Goths garrisoning Arabia in 208, and Goths later took part in Valerian’s war against the Persians. This was probably an increasing trend, but it is hard to tell how much the armies of, say, Constantine and Licinius were really dependent on Goths or Arabs, whom they are known to have made use of.

The other military change of potentially great importance in the period prior to 235 was not so much that many units in the Roman army became ‘sedentary’ from generation to generation, becoming deeply involved in essentially administrative duties, but that many Roman soldiers never experienced battle. This army had never been invincible, but its deplorable failure to protect the Danube frontier in 170–1 suggests significant changes for the worse. Enemy forces reached northern Italy for the first time in some 270 years, while others, as already mentioned, raided as far south as Attica. Our sources on all this are poor, but it may be conjectured that a shortage of officers and soldiers seasoned by warfare had a great deal to do with Rome’s failure, and this in turn was the indirect result of conscious policy. In other respects, the Romans were normally at an advantage: throughout this period they were superior to their opponents in important areas such as artillery and engineering (‘the soldiers are always practising bridge-building’, Dio 71.3).

Temporary causes admittedly contributed, and the Danube line still had a long future. Marcus Aurelius, as we have seen, had had to raise two new legions about 165 to replace the three which his co-ruler Verus had taken from the Rhine and Danube to the east in order to fight the Parthians. Shortly thereafter, the Roman military in the north suffered seriously from the Great Pestilence, as recent studies have demonstrated. Marcus himself had had no military or even provincial experience before 168 – and it showed. Imperial coin-types furthermore had often exaggerated the emperors’ military achievements, and there was a risky deception involved when coin-types absurdly declared in 172–4 ‘Germania subacta’ – ‘Germany has been vanquished’.

Few historians have really tried to evaluate the Severan army, and the evidence is slippery. Even republican armies sometimes mutinied, and there were whole rhetorical topoi about undisciplined soldiery. But an army stationed in Mesopotamia that was mutinous enough to assassinate the provincial governor (about 227, Dio 80.4.2) was a very negative symptom (and see below on the year 235).

We have quite a lot of information about how the Roman army changed between Severan times and Constantine, but assessing its ability to do its job is nonetheless difficult. On the one hand it never, unlike the republican army, won battles it might well have lost, on the other it never, unlike the late-antique Roman army, lost battles that it ought to have won. We have little option but to judge it by its results, though these may be mainly attributable not to its own qualities but to those of its generals, or its logistics, or its enemies, or to any combination of these factors. Recent accounts of Rome’s military performance in this 100-year period are unsatisfactory, but our sources are admittedly tenuous to a degree, whether it is for the defeat at Abrittus in 251 or the battle nine years later in which, or after which, the Persians captured the emperor Valerian (some Roman sources naturally preferred to claim that he was captured by trickery).

Tiberius already knew that it was worth keeping two legions in Dalmatia partly in order to back up the legions on the Danube (Tacitus, Annals 4.5). Later Roman emperors eventually concluded that the long-standing dispositions of the Roman army, with the great majority of the soldiers stationed on or near the frontiers, were ill adapted to resisting major invasions that might come from different directions. It had always been necessary to balance the needs of the Danube frontier and the Euphrates frontier, but both became more dangerous in late-Severan times. Once Rome surrendered the initiative, the distances involved presented an almost insoluble problem: it took something over two months, for example, for troops to travel from Rome to Cologne. The best that could be done was to create a reserve army that could be sent wherever it was needed without weakening some vital garrison. It appears to have been Gallienus who created a central cavalry force (cf. Zosimus, New History 1.40, Cedrenus, i, p. 454 Bekker). The development of these comitatenses, as they came to be called, is impossible to follow in any detail, but Constantine apparently expanded their role (Zosimus 2.21.1 may refer to such troops), while also centralizing the command structure of the army by means of an overall infantry commander (the magister peditum) and a parallel cavalry commander (the magister equitum). Nonetheless it remained difficult to counter any large invasion once it had passed the northern or eastern frontiers. An enterprising governor might raise a local militia (populares: AÉ 1993 no. 1231b shows us a governor of Raetia doing this in 260), but they would be largely untrained and untried.

The reliefs on the Arch of Constantine distinguish between his Roman and his ‘barbarian’ troops, which raises again the complex question of whether Rome was now relying too much on troops who were merely mercenaries. According to the emperor Julian (Caesars 329a), Constantine ‘practically paid tribute’ to the barbarians, and modern accounts suppose that he and his rival Licinius made Rome significantly more reliant on German and other non-Roman troops than any previous ruler; but the ill effects do not yet seem to be visible.

The strength of the Roman Empire’s numerous and various neighbours to the north, east, and south can only be judged, once again, by the results, their aims likewise. From Tiberius’ time to Trajan’s, those who kept their freedom from Rome and their territorial integrity were doing well; this applies mainly to the Romans’ failure to advance far beyond the Rhine and to hold on to Mesopotamia. The incursions of the 160s–70s and of the 240s–60s showed a great deal of vigour. The invaders’ goal was often plunder, including human beings, which the Roman Empire offered in abundance. Dio (71.16) asserts that the Iazyges had taken far more than ‘ten myriads’ of prisoners in Roman territory – a five- rather than a six-digit number, one might think. (Some of the third-century booty has been recovered from the bed of the Rhine, rafts having apparently sunk). Not even Sasanian Persia, the most powerful external enemy Rome faced in this period, showed any determination to hold on to any Roman province, and in fact it had no reliable means of protecting its own core area against Roman forces that were always relatively near. But northern peoples had already in the second century extracted territorial concessions of a sort, obtaining lands within the Roman frontier. This practice went back to Julio-Claudian times. Initially the advantages to Rome probably outweighed the disadvantages; whether that continued to hold true in and after Marcus Aurelius’ time we shall consider in a moment. It certainly looks like a major surrender to strong outside pres- sure. Purchasing the docility of outside enemies by means of payments, unless it was a short-lived tactical expedient, was likewise a recognition of real enemy strength: this started with Domitian, but involved Trajan, Hadrian, and many later emperors. Yet from a Roman point of view, this was by no means an irrational policy, within limits.

Fundamental changes had taken place by the time the conglomeration of Germans known as the Alamanni (‘All Men’), who are first attested in a Roman source in 213, inflicted quite serious harm in 232–3. This was nothing less perhaps than the birth of a new national formation. What made a difference here was probably in the end quite simple: such a new grouping, like the Franks from about 260, could put larger forces into the field than any single German people. But the tetrarchs and Constantine could always, it seems, defeat the northern peoples on the battlefield.

Imperial Roman High Command

The aspirations of soldiers who wished to enter into the militiae equestres highlight the often strange and convoluted path to advancement in the Roman army and administration. The usual pattern of promotion from the ranks of the army (via the primipilate and the Rome tribunates) bypassed the equestrian officer commands in the militiae and instead led to the procuratorial career. The opportunities for a former soldier to be placed in direct command of troops at a more senior level included the posts of praefectus classis, praesidial procurator, or the prefectures of the vigiles and praetorian guard. However, there are few indications that the Roman administration actively preferred former soldiers for these posts, and many a primipilaris is later found in financial procuratorships. The senior legionary and provincial commands were restricted to senators; experienced primipilares, as middle-aged men, were not normally suitable for entrance into the senate. This meant that there was no coherent career path from soldier to general in the principate. The promotion of former soldiers into the militiae equestres represented one challenge to this system, but it was not enough in and of itself to prompt the overhaul of the military career structure. This only happened gradually over the course of the late second and third centuries AD.

The emperors traditionally invested military authority in their senatorial legates, both the governors of consular and praetorian provinces, as well as any senators appointed to ad hoc supra-provincial commands, as in the case of Cn. Domitius Corbulo or C. Avidius Cassius. Important campaigns requiring significant forces, such as Trajan’s Dacian and Parthian Wars, saw the emperor and his senatorial generals assume primary command of the legions. Equestrian officers, usually in the militiae equestres, were placed in control of auxiliary troops or smaller detachments. For example, in the Parthian War of Lucius Verus, M. Valerius Lollianus, prefect of the ala II Flavia Agrippiana, was appointed praepositus of vexillations of auxiliary units in Syria. During this campaign Lollianus answered to the senior senatorial commanders: the governor of Cappadocia, M. Statius Priscus Licinius Italicus, and M. Claudius Fronto, who was legatus Augusti in charge of an expeditionary army of legions and auxiliaries. The majority of Marcus Aurelius’ senior commanders during his German wars, which occupied most of the 170s, were likewise senatorial generals. The praetorian prefects, who commanded the cohortes praetoriae and the imperial horse guard (equites singulares Augusti), were the exception to this roster of senatorial commanders. The praetorian prefect was occasionally entrusted with more senior authority, as when Domitian gave Cornelius Fuscus control over the conduct of his First Dacian War after the senatorial governor of Moesia, Oppius Sabinus, was killed in battle. Marcus Aurelius likewise invested his prefect Taruttienus Paternus with command of an expeditionary force at the beginning of his Second German War in AD 177. These shortterm appointments did not in and of themselves bring about a change in senatorial military authority.

There was a clear military hierarchy for senators: they could serve as military tribunes, then as legionary legates, then govern a two- or three legion province. There was no such well-defined path for equites, and no opportunity for talented equestrians to lead large expeditionary forces at a high rank. This meant that ad hoc solutions had to be devised, as happened in the 160s-170s AD during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. M. Valerius Maximianus, who began his career in the militiae equestres, was placed in charge of cavalry units sent to the eastern provinces to assist in suppressing the revolt of Avidius Cassius. Since he had advanced beyond the militiae, Maximianus’ higher standing was recognised by giving him the status of centenarius, the equivalent of a procurator. The same type of promotion was employed for his contemporary, L. Iulius Vehilius Gallus Iulianus, who had also advanced beyond the militia quarta. Iulianus was granted the exceptional title of `procurator Augusti and praepositus of vexillations’, as a way of recognising his seniority in several campaigns during this period. These commissions at procuratorial rank represented an attempt to create an equestrian equivalent to the senatorial legionary legate. The only alternative would have been to promote these equestrians into the senate at the rank of expraetor. This did eventually occur in the case of M. Valerius Maximianus and two of his Antonine contemporaries, P. Helvius Pertinax and M. Macrinius Avitus Catonius Vindex. But Iulianus remained an eques, eventually ascending to the praetorian prefecture under Commodus.

It must be emphasised that these promotions did not represent any attempt to advance hardened soldiers from the ranks to senior commands. Maximianus was from the curial class of Poetovio in Pannonia, while Vindex was the son of the praetorian prefect M. Macrinius Vindex. Pertinax was the son of a freedman, but had obtained equestrian rank and a commission in the militiae thanks to prominent senatorial patrons. The origins of Iulianus are unknown, but he certainly began his career in the militiae. There was only one seasoned solider on Marcus Aurelius’ staff: the praetorian prefect M. Bassaeus Rufus, who was from a poor and humble background, and had risen via the primipilate and a procuratorial career. The wars of Marcus Aurelius therefore introduced some important innovations, which highlighted notable problems with the developing equestrian cursus. The second century AD had witnessed the consolidation of the equestrian aristocracy of service, men who were prepared to serve the state domi militiaeque in the same manner as senators. Yet there was no clear way for these men to assume high military commands as equites, resulting in the creation of ad hoc procuratorial appointments.

The reign of Septimius Severus witnessed important developments for the Roman military establishment, and the place of the equestrian order within it. Severus created three new legions, the I, II and III Parthica, each of which was placed under the command of an equestrian praefectus legionis, not a senatorial legate. The first and third Parthian legions were stationed in the new province of Mesopotamia, which was entrusted to an equestrian prefect on the model of the province of Egypt. The commanders of the legions therefore had to be equites in order to avoid having a senator answer to an equestrian governor. This had been the practice of Augustus when he installed the legio XXII Deiotariana and the legio III Cyrenaica in Egypt under equestrian prefects. The same command structure was maintained in the legio II Traiana, which was the sole legion stationed in Egypt in the Severan age. The third new legion founded by Severus, the legio II Parthica, was quartered at Albanum just outside Rome, and thus became the first legion to be permanently stationed in Italy. One prefect of the II Parthica, T. Licinius Hierocles, is recorded with the exceptional title of praefectus vice legati (`the prefect acting in place of the legate’), though this was probably only a formality, since no senatorial legates are on record.

The career paths for the officers of the Parthian legions followed the pattern of the legions stationed in Egypt. Their tribunates were integrated into the militiae equestres, with some tribunes of the Parthian legions going on to procuratorial careers in the usual manner. The traditional route to the prefecture of the legio II Traiana in Egypt was via the primipilate and the Rome tribunates. The command of this legion ranked as a ducenarian procuratorship by the Antonine period, and the same status was given to the prefects of the new legiones Parthicae. The first prefect of a Parthian legion, C. Iulius Pacatianus, was promoted from the militiae equestres, but thereafter the commands appear to have been given to primipilares, following the Egyptian precedent. This suggests that Septimius Severus was following traditional status hierarchies when establishing his new Parthian legions. There was certainly no move to replace senatorial legates with equestrian prefects elsewhere in the empire. This had been attempted by Sex. Tigidius Perennis, Commodus’ praetorian prefect, after the British legions acclaimed the senatorial legionary legate Priscus as emperor. When Perennis tried to place equestrians in command of the legions, this punitive measure provoked a military revolt that eventually led to his downfall. Severus was not about to repeat this mistake, and therefore his new legions fitted with existing equestrian paradigms and career paths.

The Principate Roman Army II

The foundation of the Parthian legions did, however, lead to changes in the expeditionary forces, particularly their overall command structure. The legio II Parthica was designed to accompany the emperor on campaign, a role it performed during Septimius Severus’ two Parthian wars and his British expedition. The question of whether the legion came under the direct command of the praefectus praetorio is a vexed one. In Cassius Dio’s Roman History the character Maecenas advises Octavian that the praetorian prefect should control all the forces stationed in Italy, a statement that could be taken refer to the situation in Dio’s own lifetime. As an official imperial comes during Severus’ Parthian campaigns, the prefect Fulvius Plautianus certainly joined the emperor in the east, but he is not mentioned in any specifically military capacity, in contrast with the abundant evidence for Severus’ senatorial generals leading troops in battle. It seems likely, therefore, that the authority of the praetorian prefect over the legio II Parthica evolved gradually. During Caracalla’s campaign against the Parthians his expeditionary force was composed of the legio II Parthica, the cohortes praetoriae, and the equites singulares Augusti, as well as vexillations of legions based on the German, Danubian and Syrian frontiers, totalling some 80-90,000 soldiers. This is what scholars call a `field army’, a modern term of convenience used to describe a large force composed of vexillations from a range of legions and auxiliary forces, which accompanied emperors or their leading generals on campaigns. Apart from the legio II Parthica, the only other legion that may have participated in Caracalla’s campaign as a complete unit was the legio II Adiutrix of Pannonia. This meant that the legio II Parthica was effectively the central core of the force and – although no ancient source explicitly attests this – the logical commander of the field army would be the praetorian prefect. Both of Caracalla’s prefects, M. Opellius Macrinus and M. Oclatinius Adventus, are known to have accompanied him to the east. This necessitated the appointment of a substitute prefect in Rome to handle the judicial responsibilities of the position.

The legio II Parthica later formed the core of the forces marshalled by Severus Alexander and Gordian III for their eastern campaigns against the revived Persian empire. Indeed, it is during Gordian III’s reign that the connection between the legion and the praetorian prefect is shown clearly for the first time. Both the emperor’s praetorian prefects, C. Furius Sabinius Aquila Timesitheus and C. Iulius Priscus, formed part of the retinue that left Rome for the Persian front in AD 242. In the same year, Valerius Valens, praefectus vigilum, is attested in Rome `acting in place of the praetorian prefect’ (vice praef(ecti) praet(orio) agentis). In this capacity he oversaw the discharge of the veteran soldiers of the legio II Parthica. These men had originally enlisted in AD 216, and had been left behind in Rome rather than journeying to the east. The prefects on campaign with their emperor became enormously powerful individuals: C. Iulius Philippus, who succeeded Timesitheus, was able to arrange the downfall of Gordian III in the east, and returned to Rome as emperor. Successianus, an equestrian commander on the Black Sea in the 250s, was summoned by Valerian to serve as his praetorian prefect in the east, where he commanded the field army against the Persians. The composition of Valerian’s army is strikingly demonstrated by the account of the Roman forces in the account of the Persian king Shapur, known as the Res Gestae divi Saporis. This includes the detail that the praetorian prefect was captured by the Persians in AD 260 alongside the emperor and members of the senate. The employment of the legio II Parthica as a permanent core of the emperor’s own field army enhanced and consolidated the position of the praetorian prefect as a senior military commander in addition to the senatorial generals.

The rise of the field armies attached to the emperor and the praetorian prefect sometimes offered new opportunities to soldiers of other ranks. In the previous section we observed the marked correspondence between soldiers who served in the praetorian guard, the equites singulares, and the legio II Parthica, and those who obtained advancement into the militiae equestres or the promotion of their sons to equestrian rank. Proximity to the emperor and his senior staff on campaign evidently had its advantages. The same phenomenon can be observed in the careers of prefects of the legio II Parthica, which, since it accompanied Caracalla to the east, was intimately bound up with the political machinations of the years AD 217-18. In this period the empire passed from Caracalla to his prefect Macrinus and then to the boy emperor Elagabalus, with the crucial battles all happening in Syria. The commanders of the legio II Parthica included Aelius Triccianus, who had begun his career as a rank-and-file soldier in Pannonia and ostiarius (`door-keeper’) to the governor. Other ostiarii are attested as being promoted to centurion, so it is likely that Triccianus himself became a centurion and primus pilus, a career path attested for comparable equestrian legionary prefects. This was a spectacular career, but not unprecedented or improper. The same can be said for P. Valerius Comazon, who served as a soldier in Thrace early in his career, before rising to become praefectus of the legio II Parthica. Again, there is nothing truly exceptional in and of itself about soldiers who ascended to the Rome tribunates or camp prefecture via the primipilate. But the command of the legio II Parthica offered connections to the imperial court, and the favour of Macrinus and Elagabalus, respectively, enabled Aelius Triccianus and Valerius Comazon to enter the ranks of the senate. Their promotion earned the ire of the senatorial historian Cassius Dio, who disliked the progression of soldiers into the amplissimus ordo. Dio did not resent the advancement of equestrians per se, but the elevation of soldiers who were able to enter the equestrian order and then into the curia. Triccianus and Comazon were quite different from M. Valerius Maximianus, who originated from the curial classes of Pannonia. Such opportunities would only become more common as emperors spent more time on campaign with their field armies.

In addition to the creation of the Parthian legions and the growing importance of the field army, the first half of the third century AD witnessed equites appointed to ad hoc procuratorial military commands. We have already noted this phenomenon in the wars of Marcus Aurelius, when M. Valerius Maximianus and L. Iulius Vehilius Gallus Iulianus commanded army detachments with the rank of a procurator, as a way of compensating for the lack of any defined military pathway for equestrians after the militiae. In the reign of Severus Alexander, P. Sallustius Sempronius Victor was granted the ius gladii with a special commission to clear the sea of pirates, a command that was probably associated with his existing procuratorship in Bithynia and Pontus. This creation of new military commands within the procuratorial hierarchy can also be seen vividly in the case of Ae[l]ius Fir[mus]. Following a series of financial procuratorships in Pontus and Bithynia and Hispania Citerior (high-ranking posts in and of themselves), Fir[mus] was placed in charge of vexillations of the praetorian fleet, detachments of a legio I (possibly Parthica or Adiutrix), and another group of vexillations, in the Parthian War of Gordian III. In this capacity he ranked as an army commander and procurator at the ducenarian level, without actually holding a standing military post (such as fleet prefect, praesidial procurator or praetorian prefect). The adaptability of the equestrian careers to meet the new demands is demonstrated by the case of a certain Ulpius [-].227After series of administrative procuratorial positions, Ulpius was praepositus of the legio VII Gemina. Since this legion was normally stationed in northern Spain, Ulpius probably commanded vexillations of the legion in a war conducted in the reign of Philip. He then returned to the usual procuratorial cursus, serving as sub- praefectus annonae in Rome.

Some equestrians were given special appointments as dux with responsibility for a specific province or series of provinces. This can be observed in Egypt, where generals with the title of dux or commander appear in the 230s-240s. The archaic Greek word σρατηλάτης is rarely used in the imperial period before the third century AD; the only exception is inscribed account of the career of the Trajanic senator and general C. Iulius Quadratus Bassus at Ephesus. But it makes a reappearance in the third century AD to describe senior equestrian military commanders. The first Egyptian example is M. Aurelius Zeno Ianuarius, who replaced the prefect in some, or probably all, of his functions in AD 231. His military responsibilities should be connected with the beginning of Severus Alexander’s Persian War. The second dux/σρατηλάτης mis attested ten years later, in AD 241/2, which is precisely when war broke out between Romans and Persians again under Gordian III. This time, the dux was Cn. Domitius Philippus, the praefectus vigilum, who appears to have been sent directly to Egypt while retaining his post as commander of the vigiles. In both cases the new military command was an ad hoc addition to their usual equestrian cursus. The final example occurs in the 250s, when M. Cornelius Octavianus, vir perfectissimus, is attested as `general across Africa, Numidia and Mauretania’ (duci per Africam  Numidiam Mauretaniamque), with a commission to campaign against the Bavares. This substantial command was in succession to his appointment as governor of Mauretania Caesariensis. Octavianus then departed to become prefect of the fleet at Misenum, working his way to a senior post in the equestrian procuratorial cursus. All these cases show the essential adaptability of the imperial system, which allowed third-century emperors to appoint equestrians to senior military commands when it suited them. This may have been because an equestrian was the person the emperor trusted most in the circumstances; for example, Cn. Domitius Philippus, as praefectus vigilum, was one of the most senior officials in the empire. This represents the same pragmatic approach we saw in the appointment of equestrians as acting governors. On a practical level, it did not matter whether an army commander was an eques Romanus or a senator, because the military tasks that he was capable of performing, and was entrusted with by the emperor, were essentially the same. The new ad hoc army commands gave members of the equestris nobilitas further opportunities to serve the state domi militiaeque alongside the senatorial service elite.

At the same time, it is necessary to point out that these changes did not lead to senators being ousted from military commands prior to the reign of Gallienus. Rich epigraphic evidence, combined with the testimony of Dio and Herodian, preserves a long list of Septimius Severus’ senatorial generals. P. Cornelius Anullinus, L. Fabius Cilo, L. Marius Maximus, Ti. Claudius Candidus and L. Virius Lupus commanded Severus’ troops as duces or praepositi in one, or both, of his civil wars against Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus. Candidus also participated in the emperor’s Parthian campaigns, alongside Ti. Claudius Claudianus, T. Sextius Lateranus, Claudius Gallus, Iulius Laetus and a certain Probus. These senators were rewarded with a range of honours, from consulships and governorships to wealth and property (the sole exception was Laetus, who was executed for being too popular with the troops). In the face of such overwhelming testimony, it proves difficult to marshal support for the still-popular scholarly argument that Severus prioritised equestrian officers over senators. Equestrian commanders continued to participate in campaigns as subordinates to the senatorial generals, as we see in the case of L. Valerius Valerianus, who commanded the cavalry at the Battle of Issus under the authority of the consular legate, P. Cornelius Anullinus.

The same pattern can be found in Severus Alexander’s Persian War of AD 231-3. Herodian’s History, our major historical account of this conflict, is notoriously deficient in prosopographical detail. Yet senators are attested in inscriptions, as in the case of the senior consular comes, T. Clodius Aurelius Saturninus, who accompanied Alexander to the east. The senator L. Rutilius Pudens Crispinus, praetorian governor of Syria Phoenice and legate of the legio III Gallica, also served as a commander of vexillations during this conflict. But we only know about Crispinus’ command from an inscription from Palmyra, which recounts the assistance rendered by the local dignitary Iulius Aurelius Zenobius to Alexander, Crispinus and the Roman forces. The inscribed account of Crispinus’ career from Rome merely states that he was legatus Augusti pro praetore of Syria Phoenice. It is probable that senatorial governors, such as D. Simonius Proculus Iulianus, consular legate of Syria Coele, continued to play important roles in eastern conflicts under Gordian III. Indeed, the evidence for equestrian procurators acting vice praesidis in Syria Coele, discussed above, suggests that the procurator assumed judicial responsibilities while the consular governor was preoccupied with warfare. This indicates that senatorial governors continued to play a major part in military campaigns, even if it was not specifically noted in inscriptions recording their cursus.

This argument is supported by the literary sources that show senators assuming military commands through to the middle decades of the third century AD. We can observe this in particular in the Danubian and Balkan region, which was a near-continuous conflict zone. Tullius Menophilus fought against the Goths as legatus Augusti pro praetore of Moesia Inferior in the reign of Gordian III. During the incursion of the Goths under Cniva in AD 250/1, the Moesian governor C. Vibius Trebonianus Gallus successfully defended the town of Nova. In AD 253 M. Aemilius Aemilianus, governor of one of the Moesian provinces, pursued the fight against the Goths, before being acclaimed emperor. Senators also continued to receive special commands, as in the case of C. Messius Quintus Decius Valerinus and P. Licinius Valerianus, both future emperors, who were placed in charge of expeditionary forces by the emperors Philip and Aemilius Aemilianus, respectively. In Numidia, the governor C. Macrinius Decianus conducted a major campaign against several barbarian tribes in the middle of the 250s. In fact, if we examine the backgrounds of the generals who claimed the purple up to and including the reign of Gallienus, the majority of them were actually senators, a fact obscured by the common use of the term `soldier emperor’ for rulers of this period. Decius, one of the few known senators from Pannonia, successfully allied himself with an Etruscan senatorial family when he married the eminently suitable Herennia Cupressenia Etruscilla. His successor, Trebonianus Gallus, was of remarkably similar background to Etruscilla, coming from Perusia in central Italy. The emperor Valerian likewise had close links with the Italian senatorial aristocracy, marrying into the family of the Egnatii. Some of the more ephemeral emperors deserve notice too, such as Ti. Claudius Marinus Pacatianus, the descendant of a Severan senatorial governor, who rebelled in the reign of Philip. P. Cassius Regalianus, who was probably consular legate of Pannonia Superior when he began an insurrection against Gallienus in 260, was himself descended from a Severan suffect consul. These men were not soldiers promoted from the ranks, but senatorial generals who used their positions to make a play for the imperial purple.

The Roman military hierarchy in the first half of the third century AD was therefore characterised by a mixture of continuity and change. The creation of the legio II Parthica, and the necessity for the emperor and his praetorian prefects to campaign on a regular basis, meant that emperor was in close contact with members of the expeditionary forces. Officers in the field army could receive imperial favour and embark on spectacular careers, like Aelius Triccianus or Valerius Comazon, or even Iulius Philippus, the praetorian prefect who snatched the purple from Gordian III while in the east. It is no coincidence that many of the soldiers’ sons attested with equestrian rank belonged to the praetorian guard, the equites singulares and the legio II Parthica. At the same time, the imperial state tried to create senior army roles for promising equites in a manner analogous to senatorial legates by instituting ad hoc procuratorial commands (as seen in the case of Valerius Maximianus and Vehilius Gallus Iulianus). This gave members of the equestris nobilitas, the equestrian aristocracy of service, access to army officer commands beyond the militiae equestres. It should be noted that for the most part these men were not lowborn ingénues from the ranks, but members of the municipal aristocracy who served the res publica in a comparable manner to senators, as their predecessors had before them. It is also imperative to point out the endurance of tradition within the high command. Senatorial legates and generals still commanded armies in the emperor’s foreign wars on the Rhine, Danube and Euphrates frontiers. Their military authority continued to make them viable and desirable candidates for the purple in the first half of the third century AD. There was as yet no attempt to undermine the positions of senatorial tribunes or legionary legates. It was the dramatic developments in the 250s-260s that provided the catalyst to set the empire on a radically different path.

Campanian Cavalry

These men are excellent heavy cavalry, skillful at skirmishing tactics, fast enough to outrun cavalry, good at flanking charges and quite capable in melee thanks to their heavy armor, armor-piercing Kopis sword and their good shields.

Samnite, Campanian and Lucanian warriors. In a number of hard-fought battles, the Romans defeated the Latin League, taking away the sovereignty of their states, who subsequently assimilated into Latium. The consul, Lucius Furius Camillus, asked the Senate: “Do you wish to adopt ruthless measures against a people that have surrendered and been defeated? … Or do you wish to follow the example of your ancestors and make Rome greater by conferring her citizenship on those whom she has defeated.

The Campanians were reckoned amongst the best cavalry in Italy – probably second only in reputation to the famous horsemen of Taras. Italian and Roman cavalry fought with little armour during the 4th and 3rd Centuries, preferring mobility and to use javelins (where-as the Macedonian tradition favoured the lance and ‘contact’). Polybius goes so far as to say that Roman Cavalry equipment was inferior to Greek equipment, and was changed to be more Hellenic following contact with the likes of Pyrrhus and the Successor Kingdoms (as well as the Hellenized Carthaginians). This change probably took place towards the end of the 2nd Punic War, as the roman and Italian Cavalry had been badly mauled by the Carthaginians.

From the 8th century BC, when Greeks settlers established trading posts along Italy’s eastern seaboard in the vicinity of modern-day Naples, the region of Campania was part of Magna Graecia. It remained so, a stalwart of Hellenistic civilisation, until its aggressive Samnite neighbours began to migrate from their mountainous homelands, displacing the Greek culture and language prevalent there. In a land famed for its sweeping landscapes – ideal for the breeding of strong horses – the emergent Campanian nobility developed their renowned cavalry. Carrying heavy javelins for skirmishing and swords for melee, they used speed, agility and flexibility of tactics to inflict damage on more heavily armed, and therefore slower moving, opponents. Following the Samnite Wars with Rome, around the beginning of the 3rd century BC, Campanians provided the basis of the Socii cavalry attached to Roman Legions. Well-trained in their people’s equestrian traditions, they were highly valued horsemen and greatly respected warriors.

Livy wrote of two Roman cavalrymen during these years who defeated Campanian opponents in single combat . These accounts are important because they preserve the Roman need for moral victories at this time and are emphasized precisely because they ran counter to the general pattern of Campanian victories. The Roman heroes proved that the enemy cavalry would not alway be victorious. In the first duel Cerrinus Vibellius Aurea. the finest of all the Campanian horsemen, challenged Claudius Asellus, his former comrade and the finest of all the Roman horsemen. The two riders wheeled and dodged one another for a time without landing a blow. At last, Taurea challenged his opponent to jump into a narrow ditch nearby where there would be no room for evasion. Claudius accepted the challenge without hesitation, but Taurea balked and returned to his ranks. The second duel happened several years later. A recently successful sortie by Campanian and Carthaginian cavalry had damaged Roman morale T. Quinctius Crispinus restored Roman morale by defeating the Campanian Badius in a cavalry duel. The two had been guest friends, but Badius renounced his ties and challenged Crispinus to battle. Crispinus transfixed his spear in Badius shoulder, but Badius fled and avoided his deathblow. Crispinus returned to the Roman camp with the arms and horse of his foe and received praise and

The year 211 seems to have been the beginning of a turning point for the Roman cavalry as Livy’s account of the creation of ne velites in 211 suggests. According to Livy, the quickest of the light infantry armed themselves with small shields and seven javelins. Each cavalry trooper transported one of these soldiers to within missile range of the enemy. The light infantry dismounted and charged while casting their javelins in quick succession against the enemy soldiers and horses. The cavalry followed up with a charge and pursued the fleeing Capuans to the city gates against the enemy soldiers and horses.

Livy incorrectly believed that the Romans first used velites at this time; actually, light infantry had accompanied the legions well before 211. Nevertheless, there is no compelling reason to doubt that the Romans were combining light infantry and cavalry in this manner at this time. This passage suggests the Romans were attempting to develop innovative tactics to help their cavalry overcome the opposing cavalry. Livy asserted this tactic ended the dominance of the Campanian cavalry. Certainly, the Romans had reduced Capua by 211, and the Campanian horse no longer posed a problem.

Socii infantry and cavalry Soldiers of roman army in early era of Republic.

Equites Campanici (Campanian Cavalry)

Equites Campanici are renowned as the finest horsemen in Italy, with the Samnites their only true rivals. They ride stout, if small, war horses and are well trained. They are famed for their skirmishing tactics, charging, retreating, and charging home again, engaging in melee only when they fight small groups of isolated enemies. These men wear bronze armor, have stout greaves, and carry javelins and the Greek Kopis sword with which to perform their deadly efficient work.

Historically, Campania was ever a rich region in Italy. Blessed with a fair amount of flat terrain, the horse farms of the nobility provided a steady stream of cavalry with which to protect the capital, Capua. Their final demise happened during the Second Punic War, when Rome took the city after it had gone over to the Carthaginians. Its male population were put to the sword or sold into slavery, ending the great tradition of cavalry.

The Samnites

When the Carthaginian had spoken thus, Kaiso replied: `This is what we Romans are like . . . [W]ith those who make war on us we agree to fight on their terms, and when it comes to foreign practices we surpass those who have long been used to them. For the Tyrrhenians used to make war on us with bronze shields and fighting in phalanx formation, not in maniples; and we, changing our armament and replacing it with theirs, organised our forces against them, and contending thus against men who had long been accustomed to phalanx battles we were victorious. Similarly the Samnite shield was not part of our national equipment, nor did we have javelins, but fought with rounds shields and spears; nor were we strong in cavalry, but all or nearly all of Rome’s strength lay in infantry. But when we found ourselves at war with the Samnites we armed ourselves with their oblong shields and javelins, and fought against them on horseback, and by copying foreign arms we became masters of those who thought so highly of themselves. Ineditum Vaticanum, ed. H. von Arnim, “Ineditum Vaticanum,” Hermes 27 (1892): 118-30 (= Jacoby FGrHist 839 F. 1), 3, in Cornell’s translation, Beginnings of Rome (n. 1), 170. Cf. Diod., 23.2.1; Ath. 6.273 e-f; Sall. Cat. 51.37-38.

Map showing expansion of Roman sphere of influence from the Latin War (340–338 BC) to the defeat of the Insubres (222 BC).

The Samnites were the archetypal warriors of the ver sacrum (Sacred Spring). Claiming descent from the Sabines (hence the Samnites and other Oscan speakers were known as Sabelli or Sabellians) they believed that a bull sent by Mamers guided them to their homeland in the southern central Apennines. They divided into four tribes, the Pentri, Caudini, Caraceni and Hirpini. The latter took their name from Mamers’ hirpus (wolf), which they followed in a subsequent ver sacrum. The four tribes cooperated in a military alliance.

They fought long and hard against the Romans in a series of wars from 343 BC to 272 BC, and were the only Italian nation whose military qualities the Romans feared. According to Livy they were warlike, brave and resolute even in adversity. Their main strength was in swift moving javelin-armed infantry, organised in cohorts and legions. Many of them being armoured. Their preferred tactic was to surround an enemy and pelt him with javelins while avoiding hand-to-hand contact. If possible they would ambush the enemy rather than risk a pitched battle. The wooded hills of their home territory were ideally suited to such tactics. However, they were prepared to fight it out in the open if necessary.

In 354 BC the Samnite League sent an embassy to Rome, requesting friendship and alliance between their peoples. According to Livy, the Samnites were prompted to do so because they were impressed by a Roman victory over Tarquinii, but Rome’s reduction of the Hernici in 358 BC would have been of more interest to the Samnites; the victory over Tarquinii merely reinforced the growing reputation of Roman military prowess. However, the allies fell out in 343 BC when the Samnites attempted to expand west into northern Campania and the territory of the Sidicini, and Capua, the leading Campanian city-state, appealed to Rome for help against the invaders. The Romans scented an opportunity to massively expand their little empire and renounced the treaty with the Samnite League.

The Romans sent priests called fetiales to the border of Samnium, perhaps in the vicinity of Sora, where the chief fetial declared war by symbolically casting a spear into the territory of the enemy. The consul Valerius the Raven (Corvus) was assigned the war in Campania, while his colleague Cornelius the Greasy (Arvina) invaded Samnium. The Raven pushed south to Mount Gaurus, in the hills above Puteoli, drawing the Samnite army away from Capua. The Samnites were defeated after a long struggle, requiring the heroic Valerius to dismount from his horse and lead a counter-attack on foot, and they withdrew from Campania.

Meanwhile, Cornelius the Greasy had advanced into the territory of the Caudini located immediately east of Capua. In the vicinity of Saticula his army was trapped in a heavily wooded defile; this was a favourite tactic of the Samnite mountain men. However, Cornelius’ army was extricated by a military tribune, Publius Decius Mus. Tradition asserted that before the Samnites completed the encirclement and closed in, the military tribune led the hastati and principes of the consular legion (2,400 legionaries) through the woodland to a hill above the enemy; distracted by Mus’ sudden appearance on the hill, the rest of the consul’s army was able to escape. The dauntless Decius was now surrounded by the full Samnite army (apparently numbering in excess of 30,000 warriors), but during the night the tribune led his legionaries down the hill, broke through the encirclement and reunited with the consul’s army. In the morning the Samnites, still disorganized from the confusion resulting from Decius’ escape, were surprised by the Romans and soundly defeated. Decius was where the fighting was thickest, claiming that he had been inspired by a dream in which he achieved immortal fame by dying gloriously in battle. It has been suggested that Decius’ peculiar cognomen, Mus, meaning ‘rat’, derived from his exploits at Saticula, perhaps because he dared to fight at night, a most unusual enterprise for a Roman commander.

Despite these two heavy defeats the Samnite League was not ready to throw in the towel. A new army of 40,000 men (another exaggeration of the later Roman sources) was raised from the populous tribes of Samnium, and it established a camp by Suessula, a city on the eastern edge of the Campanian plain. The army of Cornelius Arvina had evidently withdrawn from the territory of the Caudini, and it fell to the Raven to fight this last battle of the campaign. He marched from his camp at Mount Gaurus and overcame this new Samnite army as well. Suessula was located at the mouth of a valley that led to the Caudine Forks, an important pass into western Samnium. The defeated Samnites presumably retreated by way of the Forks into the country of the Caudini and Hirpini and thence to their homes, but the Raven did not follow. He was sensible not to. The Suessulans may have informed him that the pass was the perfect spot to trap an army and he had no desire to repeat the error of his colleague.

The consuls returned to Rome to celebrate triumphs (21 and 22 September 343 BC) and news of their victories spread quickly across Italy. The Faliscans were prompted to seek a formal treaty of friendship and alliance (foedus) with their old enemy, perhaps fearing that if they simply maintained the forty years’ truce imposed on them in 351 BC, the bellicose Romans would find an excuse to declare war and seize their territory. The news also travelled overseas. Ambassadors from Carthage arrived in Rome, keen to bolster the alliance of 348 BC, full of congratulations for the victories over the Samnites and bearing the not inconsiderable gift of a gold crown weighing 25 pounds. However, the war was not over and substantial Roman garrisons were installed in Capua and Suessula to protect them from Samnite incursions.

In 342 BC the Samnites nursed their wounds. The scale of their defeats could not have been as great as Livy’s account suggests, but the Romans had administered a serious blow to their military prestige and confidence. Samnite manpower in 225 BC (by which time their territory was very much reduced) is reported by the reliable Polybius as 70,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Afzelius and Cornell have estimated the population of Samnium in the middle of the fourth century BC at around 450,000 persons, and the report of the geographer Strabo that the Samnites had 80,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry may belong to this period. Strabo’s manpower figures would represent somewhat less than 20 per cent of the estimated population. The total number of adult males, including seniores, would have been well in excess of 100,000, but these figures are misleading and should be regarded as potential reserves of manpower rather than the number of warriors the Samnite League could mobilize at one time. If the Samnites had lost 30,000 men at Saticula and suffered similarly enormous casualties at Mount Gaurus and Suessula, as Livy’s accounts suggest, then their military power would have been utterly broken and their rural economies, which required men to tend crops and herds, would have collapsed.

The strengths of the consuls’ armies are not attested. It is uncertain if the practice of enrolling two legions per consular army was yet in effect. It is generally believed that the regular strength of a consular army was raised from one to two legions in 311 BC. However, because the Romans could not draw on any substantial Latin manpower in the 340s BC, it may be that extra consular legions were raised. Campanian levies would have bolstered the Roman legions, and the aristocratic cavalrymen of Capua and the other cities were famed for their martial prowess. The number of soldiers in a consular army may be estimated at 9,000 – 18,000, that is one or two legions of c. 4,500 (4,200 infantry plus 300 cavalry) and an equal number of Campanians. The Samnite armies were probably of similar size.

An introduction to Samnite Warfare

Hellenistic/Diadochi/Greek Wars 322–146 BCE


A battle in Media during the War of the Successors between the Macedonian forces of Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monopthlamus. Eumenes anticipated Antigonus’s river crossing, inflicting casualties, but failing to stop his rival’s advance.


Final battle in Media between Eumenes of Cardia and Antigonus Monopthalmus. After Antigonus captured Eumenes’ supplies, Macedonian elite forces, the Argyraspids, betrayed Eumenes to Antigonus, who rid himself of a formidable rival by executing him.

■ GAZA, 312 BCE

Decisive strategic defeat for Antigonus Monopthalmus by the combined armies of Ptolemy and Seleucus. Antigonus’s son, Demetrius, lost a large-scale battle near the city, costing his father control of Syria and hope of conquering Egypt.


Demetrius Poliorcetes with 118 warships held 60 ships of Ptolemy blockaded at their Cyprian base with just 10 vessels, defeating 140 relieving Egyptian galleys at sea with the remainder. Demetrius’s victorious left rolled up the Egyptian centre.


Successful Antigonid storming of Ptolemy’s Cyprian naval base by Demetrius Poliorcetes. Demetrius employed sea-borne catapults and a moving multi-storey siege tower against the Egyptian defenders. The capture of Salamis much improved the Antigonid position in the Mediterranean.


An epic siege in which Demetrius Poliorcetes and his siege train failed to reduce the island democracy’s capital. Demetrius’s monster terrestrial and naval siege engines met equivalent responses from the defenders, supplied by the Antigonids’ rivals.

■ IPSOS, 304 BCE

Catastrophic defeat of the Antigonid Empire in Asia, leading to the death of Antigonus Monophthalmus and Demetrius Poliorcetes’ retreat to the islands and port cities of the eastern Mediterranean. The battle took place in eastern Central Asia Minor near where Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace, successfully eluded Antigonus’s army in a southward march. Lysimachus rendezvoused with Seleucus, who had ceded Alexander’s conquest in India to obtain 480 elephants, which he had transported at tremendous expense across Persia. The two allies combined 64,000 foot, 10,500 cavalry and 120 chariots to move against Antigonus’s 70,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 75 elephants. Demetrius’s initial charge with the cavalry succeeded, but Demetrius was unable to prevent the allied infantry and elephants from crushing his father’s infantry and body in the resulting disaster. Their success in this battle prompted the popularity of elephants in Hellenistic warfare.


A Greek confederation failed to hold the pass against the Gauls under Brennus seeking to move into and plunder the cities of Greece. After a repulse, the Gauls bypassed the defenders, who evacuated by sea.


Decisive defeat in late summer of Lysimachus, 80, by Seleucus, 77, invading Thrace from Asia Minor. In this final battle between Alexander’s former generals, the armies fought in western Asia Minor. Lysimachus perished in the fighting.


Naval victory off the Greek coast by the Macedonian fleet of Antigonus Gonatus over the Egyptian squadron of Ptolemy II. Antigonus, 73, employed some of the largest vessels ever in combat in the ancient world.


Two battles lost by the Aetolians under Pyrrhias attempting to defend their capital against Philip V of Macedon’s advance southwards. Support from Attalus of Pergamon and a thousand Roman marines did not prevent the defeats.


The battle of Mantinea was caused by an attack by Machanidas, the tyrant of Sparta, against Philopoemen and the Achaean League, mustering in the nearby city. Machinadas’s catapults scattered the Achaean mercenaries, but Philopoemen, rallying his forces on better ground, defeated and killed Machanidas.

■ CHIOS, 201 BCE

Large fleet action between the navies of Philip V of Macedon and the Rhodians and Attalus of Pergamon. The Macedonians recovered from initial reverses, but Philip had to abandon his effort to capture neighbouring Samos.

■ LADE, 201 BCE

Naval defeat by Philip V of Macedon of the Rhodian fleet as it sought to prevent his conquest of Rhodian possessions on the mainland opposite the island. The Rhodians afterwards appealed to Rome for aid.


Unsuccessful siege of Philip V’s southernmost fortress in Greece by the younger Flamininus and the fleets of Attalus of Pergamon and Rhodes. A naval bombardment breached the Macedonian defences, but a phalanx in the breach held.

■ AOUS, 198 BCE

Philip V’s fortified position preventing a juncture of Flamininus’s army with Rome’s Aetolian allies to the south. Flamininus found a local guide to take the Romans behind and above Philip’s lines, successfully routing the Macedonians.


Cynescephalae was the decisive battle of the Second Macedonian War, the set-piece clash of the Macedonian phalanx with the Roman manipular legion. Reinforced by veterans returning from Carthage, Flamininus took two legions in pursuit of Philip V’s full strength, consolidated in Thessaly for battle. Roman skirmishers and allied cavalry moving up one side of a ridge encountered their Macedonian counterparts, prompting Flamininus to launch an all-out assault before the Macedonian formations were fully ready for battle. Philip’s consolidated forces on the right formed a deep phalanx. This formation crested the ridge and drove down upon the legionaries, the long pikes of the Macedonians still proving effective in pushing the legionaries back. Flamininus took his elephants and unengaged right, rolling up the disorganized Macedonians opposite while the last line of the retreating legion took the Macedonians in flank, completing the rout with heavy casualties.


City of the Achaean League besieged by Nabis, tyrant of Sparta. Philopoemen and the League moved before the Romans could effectively intervene, striking against Nabis by land and sea. The Achaeans lost at sea to Nabis’s blockading squadron when a recommissioned war memorial foundered, and Gytheum fell. The Achaeans then destroyed Nabis’s disorganized forces in a night attack and besieged Sparta, while Roman marines captured Gytheum and imposed a peace.


Antiochus III, with 14,000 infantry and 500 cavalry, held the historic pass against Roman forces seeking to evict the Seleucids from Greece. Cato the Censor led a detachment around an unguarded trail, causing a disastrous rout.


Philip V’s heir Perseus’s efforts to restore Macedonian prestige in Greece led to friction and conflict with the Achaean League and Eumenes of Pergamon, both of whom were successful in drawing Rome’s attention back to the tense situation in the Balkans. Upon Rome’s declaration of hostilities, Perseus retreated behind the safety of his borders and prolonged the war with defensive campaigning. The strategy was a sensible one, which strained Rome’s alliances and supply streams. Perseus moved his forces into a strong position near his capital at Pydna and awaited Aemelius Paulus’s attack.

Two rivers protected the Macedonian flanks on the ridge where the phalanx awaited; Paulus accordingly was reluctant to engage. For unknown reasons Perseus’s phalanx charged down the hill into the Roman line, unsupported by their cavalry. A sacrificial stand by the Achaeans apparently created enough disorder for the Roman legionaries to cut their way in and utterly destroy the Macedonian army and empire.


Opening engagement of the Third Macedonian War. Perseus had 39,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry, while the Roman army of Licinius consisted of two legions containing 12,000 largely inexperienced Italian troops. Perseus forced the Romans to retreat.

■ PYDNA, 148 BCE

One Andriscus, claiming Perseus as his father, seized control of Macedonia in 149. After defeating a legion under Juventius Thalna, two legions under Caecilius Metellus crushed Andriscus near the capital of Pydna. Rome then annexed Macedonia.


Site of the Achaean League’s last effort against Roman domination of Greece; the army of Consul L. Mummius obliterated the League’s final levy and levelled the ancient and prosperous city, selling its inhabitants into slavery.

With morale restored, Pyrrhus deployed his war elephants, which the Romans had never before encountered. The Roman cavalry was routed and the infantry severely disordered by this assault. The Roman force was saved from complete disaster by the tendency of wounded elephants to run amok, disrupting their own side’s formations.

The Roman force disengaged and the Greeks were able to advance almost as far as Rome itself. However, both sides had taken very heavy losses and Pyrrhus was not confident of victory if he assaulted the city. His force pulled back and wintered in Tarentum.


After first encountering Greek war elephants at Heraclea, the Romans had developed anti-elephant tactics. On the first day of the battle of Asculum, the wooded and hilly terrain impeded the elephants and cavalry, resulting in a bloody but inconclusive clash between infantry forces. An aggressive redeployment by the Greeks forced the Romans to fight in terrain better suited to the use of elephants and the dense phalanx of the Greeks. A flank attack by the Greek elephants broke the Roman cavalry and caused a hurried withdrawal, giving the Greeks possession of the battlefield. Heavy losses on the winning side led to the concept of the ‘Pyrrhic Victory’.


To prevent King Pyrrhus from using Syracuse as a base for operations on Sicily, Carthaginian forces allied to Rome besieged the city. Pyrrhus landed Eryx and Panormus, then marched to break the siege of Syracuse.


After two years of indecisive campaigning, the Greek coalition against Macedon had made some minor progress. The coalition suffered a severe defeat at Corinth, after which the war went very much against them.


The Greek coalition against Macedonia collapsed with the fall of Athens to Macedonian troops and a peace treaty with Sparta. This cemented Macedonian control over Greece, though Egypt continued to interfere in Greek affairs.


Entering into alliance with Seleucid Persia, Macedonian troops campaigned into Syria with the intention of driving Egyptian forces out of the Aegean region. Macedonian interest in the region waned as troubles grew on the northern borders.

■ COS, 258 BCE

The Egyptian and Macedonian fleets met off Cos in a clash that decisively weakened Egyptian naval power. Details are sketchy, and the date has been disputed by several historians. An alternate date of 255 BCE has been suggested.


Continued naval clashes between Egypt and Macedon led to a battle off Andros in 245 or 246 BCE. Egyptian power in the Cyclades island group was broken as a result of this defeat.


Having been installed as regent in Asia Minor, Antiochus Hierax rebelled against his brother Seleucus II of Persia. Seleucus was decisively defeated in a clash at Ancyra, making a hasty retreat across the River Taurus.


After a period of skirmishing, the Egyptian and Seleucid armies clashed, with the Egyptian flanks soon broken. The phalangites of both armies fought on for some time, with the Egyptians finally emerging victorious.


After the failure of a first expedition by Seleucus II to retake Parthia from the Parni, a second campaign under Antiochus III brought the region under Seleucid control as a vassal state.

■ ARIUS, 209 BCE

A force of Parthian cavalry attempted to halt the Seleucid advance at the river Arius. The Seleucid advance guard, composed mainly of elite troops, crossed the river at night and surprised the Parthians in their camp.


After securing his northern frontier by reducing Parthia to a vassal state, Antiochus III marched eastward, forcing a peace settlement upon the rebellious province of Bactria. He then forayed into India where he was gifted with war elephants.


Having seized Syria and Palestine, the Seleucids held it for a short time before they were driven out by additional forces from Egypt. Antiochus launched a new campaign to regain control of the province, culminating in the battle of Panium. The Seleucids’ chief advantage was their use of cataphract cavalry, which defeated and drove off the Egyptian cavalry on the flanks, then attacked the rear of the enemy’s main infantry body.


With the Seleucid intervention in Greece defeated by a Roman army at Thermopylae, Antiochus III was forced to abandon the campaign. Roman forces then went on the offensive, making control of the Aegean vital to both sides. The Seleucid fleet was commanded by the Carthaginian Hannibal, who was in exile at the Seleucid court. Hannibal’s fleet suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of a combined Roman–Rhodian force.


Soon after the battle at Eurymedon, the Seleucid fleet was again defeated by a roughly equal-sized force of Roman and Rhodian ships. The superior experience of the Rhodians, and their use of fire-ships, were critical factors.


With the Roman army on the offensive and keen to seek a decisive battle before winter set in, Antiochus set up a fortified camp and awaited their arrival. The Roman formation was conventional, in three lines with the Roman legions in the centre and allied forces holding the flanks. The Roman force had some war elephants but these were African beasts, outmatched by the Indian elephants of the Seleucid force in both numbers and physical power.

The Seleucid cavalry broke its opposite numbers on the Roman left flank, but pursued them rather than turning on the Roman centre. The Seleucid left flank was broken soon afterwards. In the centre, the two infantry forces were evenly matched until a force of elephants mixed into the Seleucid formation were routed and the pike-armed infantry became disordered. The Seleucid force was then driven from the field.


Rising in revolt against Seleucid rule, Jewish forces under Judas Maccabeus established themselves in the mountains near Samaria, from where a force was sent against them. This was ambushed and overwhelmingly defeated.


A Seleucid force under the command of the general Seron was sent to locate and destroy the Maccabean rebels. This force was surprised at the Pass of Beth Horon and resoundingly defeated.


While Seleucid troops were in the field searching for his camp, Judas Maccabeus led an audacious attack against the Seleucids’ base at Emmaus. His force then harassed the Seleucids during their subsequent retreat.


Facing a Seleucid army under Lysias, governor of Syria, the Maccabean forces resorted to guerrilla tactics to wear down the enemy. Once the Seleucids were weakened, they were attacked and defeated at Beth Zur.


After capturing and ritually cleansing the temple at Jerusalem, the Maccabees were faced with a new army under Lysias. The Jews attempted to fight a set-piece field battle and were defeated by the better-equipped Seleucids.

■ ADASA, 161 BCE

The newly appointed governor of Judah, Nicanor, led a renewed attempt to crush the Maccabean revolt. Encountering the Jews at Adasa, near Beth-Horon, the Seleucids attacked but were defeated. This bought the revolt a brief respite.

■ ELASA, 160 BCE

Facing a vastly larger Seleucid force, Judas Maccabeus launched an attack against the bodyguard of their commander, routing it. His force was then overwhelmed by the remainder of the Seleucid army, and Judas was killed.


The diminished Seleucid kingdom in Syria was attacked by forces backed by the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. The Seleucids were defeated, though Pharaoh Ptolemy VI was killed in the fighting.


Antiochus VII led a campaign into Parthia to revive the fortunes of the declining Seleucid Empire. His force was overwhelmingly defeated at Ecbatana, bringing Seleucid ambitions in Parthia to an end.