THE PARTHIAN INVASION

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.

ROUTING THE PARTHIANS I

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.

ROUTING THE PARTHIANS II

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 Career of Nādir Shāh – Afsharid Persia

Battle of Mehmandust (1729)

The Ghilzai Afghans who, as it were by chance, had overthrown the Ṣafawid empire in 1134–5/1722 did not retain control of Persia for very long. In fact, they did not control a good deal of the country at all. They did have possession of the person of the last fully fledged Ṣafawid shāh, Sulṭān Ḥusayn; and he had indeed acknowledged, albeit under duress, Maḥmūd Ghilzai as his successor. The Afghans had also seized a number of other Ṣafawid princes when they took Iṣfahān. These were imprisoned together with the former shāh, who was for the moment well treated. But later Maḥmūd killed many of the princes, some of them with his own hands; and in the following year (1139/1726) his successor had Sulṭān Ḥusayn executed.

The last, however, had not been heard of the Ṣafawids, though no representative of that house was ever again to recover real power. The dynasty had reigned over Persia for the quite unusually long period of two and a quarter centuries. It was difficult for Persians to accustom themselves to the idea that the rule of the descendants of Shāh Ismāʿīl and Shāh ʿAbbās was no more. Despite the decay and degeneracy of the last decades of Ṣafawid rule, the prestige of the dynasty which had not only proved so long-lasting but had been responsible for the introduction of the now firmly established state religion did not evaporate overnight. For some time to come, many of those who were struggling for power in Persia claimed to be acting on behalf of the “rightful” Ṣafawid claimant, and kept tame Ṣafawids at their courts for purposes of display and to lend legitimacy to their ambitions.

Soon after the fall of Iṣfahān a Ṣafawid prince declared himself shāh in the north of the country, which the Afghans had not succeeded in occupying. Other external enemies of Persia had not missed their chance: Russian forces had marched into the north-west of the country, and the Ottomans had seized much of the west, reaching as far as the region of Hamadān and Kirmānshāh.

Maḥmūd Ghilzai was murdered in 1137/1725 and was succeeded as shāh of the parts of Persia under Afghan rule, an area centred on Iṣfahān, by his nephew Ashraf. But Ashraf’s power was precarious, for he failed to hold the Ghilzai home base of Qandahār, where a son of Maḥmūd was able to seize the throne. In 1142/1729 Ashraf was overthrown by Nādir Khān Afshār, and in 1142–3/1730 the second and last Afghan shāh, too, was murdered. The short-lived period of Ghilzai government, or misgovernment, in Persia was at an end.

Nādir Khān, who now moved into prominence, was a member of one of the great Qizilbash tribes, the Afshār. An able general, he assembled an army in the north of Persia and after rallying to the support of the Ṣafawid claimant in the north, Ṭahmāsp II, he overthrew his principal rival, Fatḥ ʿAlī Khān of the Qājār Qizilbash tribe. He adopted the name Ṭahmāsp-qulī, the slave of Ṭahmāsp. Nādir’s was a singularly unservile form of slavery, but he did acknowledge Ṭahmāsp II as shāh, at least in name, until 1145/1732, and thereafter for the next four years he recognized Ṭahmāsp’s infant son, who was called ʿAbbās III.

But by 1148/1736 Nādir evidently felt that his own position had been established so firmly that he no longer needed to hide behind a nominal Ṣafawid shāh. He therefore held an assembly, called by the Mongol term quriltai, at Mūghān in Āẕarbāyjān. The notables present at the quriltai – military commanders, officials, ʿulamāʾ – did what was expected of them and declared Nādir the first shāh of the Afshār dynasty. He had already embarked on what was to prove a spectacular career of military conquest.

He had turned his attention first to the Ottomans. In 1142–3/1730 he reconquered western and northern Persia from them, as far as Tabrīz. In 1145/1732–3 he besieged Baghdad – without success, but the threat was enough to persuade the Ottomans to agree to return to the Perso-Ottoman frontier as it had been in 1049/1639. This agreement was not immediately ratified by the government in Constantinople, but it was finally accepted after there had been further fighting in the north in 1148–9/1736. There was no clash with the Russians, who were still in occupation of parts of north Persia. They withdrew when it became clear that the areas they had held would not be taken by the Ottomans but would fall to Nādir, who seemed to them to be less of a threat.

Next Nādir marched against the Afghans. Initially his aim was the recovery of Qandahār for the Persian crown, but when this was achieved (1150/1738) he went on to take Ghazna, Kābul and Peshawar. These advances pointed him in the direction of the legendary riches of India. There the Mughal Empire was past its peak, and Nādir was able to take Lahore, then marching on to meet and defeat the Mughal forces at Karnāl (1151/1739). He seized and sacked Delhi, the Mughal capital, and marched home with a prodigious quantity of loot, including the famous Peacock Throne of the Mughal emperors. He made no attempt to remain and rule India: this was simply a plundering expedition on a massive scale, like Temür’s in 801/1398.

In 1153/1740 Nādir attacked that traditional enemy of the shāhs of Persia, the Özbegs of Transoxania. He took the cities of Bukhārā and Khīva, leaving the Khān of Bukhārā as a subject ruler. But the lands up to the Oxus River he annexed to Persia. Lastly, Nādir’s troops occupied ʿUmān between 1149/1736 and 1157/1744. The result of the conquests was to move the centre of gravity of the Persian empire substantially to the east, where Nādir reset-tled considerable numbers of tribespeople from western Persia. He decided, therefore, to transfer the capital to Mashhad, in Khurāsān. The new capital also had the advantage for Nādir that it was conveniently close to his favou-rite refuge, the formidable mountain fortress known as Kalāt-i Nādirī.

Despite the fact that the capital was now situated in a city whose greatest pride – indeed, whose reason for existence – was the presence of the tomb of the eighth Shīʿī imām, Riḍā, Nādir Shāh made a last attempt to move Persia away from state-sponsored Twelver Shīʿism. What he tried to have accepted was a little more subtle than a mere abandonment of Shīʿism in favour of Sunnism: the approach he favoured was that of integrating Shīʿism into Sunnism as a fifth madhhab (school of law) to add to the four Sunnī schools. It would be called Jaʿfarī, after the generally respected sixth Shīʿī imām, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq. This involved, at the very least, the abandonment on the part of the Shīʿīs of some of their practices which were most offensive to the Sunnīs, notably sabb and rafḍ (vilification of the first three caliphs and the denial of their legitimacy).

Nādir’s scheme was exceedingly ill-received in Persia, and no one in the Sunnī world would have anything to do with it except, temporarily, the religious authorities in Iraq, who under duress during Nādir’s invasion agreed to accept the Twelvers as a fifth madhhab. Ultimately the plan came to nothing, and it is not easy to say with certainty what Nādir’s motives in trying to half-reverse the Ṣafawid religious settlement may have been. Nādir himself, as a member of a leading Qizilbash tribe, was from as Shīʿī a background as anyone. It has been suggested that he was attempting to reduce the religious prestige of the Ṣafawid dynasty which he had displaced; or that he felt the “legitimation” of Persian Shīʿism to be a necessary preliminary to a general conquest and unification of the Muslim world under his leadership. There is also the consideration that many of Nādir’s soldiers, especially the Afghans, were Sunnīs; it may perhaps have been thought politic to conciliate them in this way.

Nādir Shāh had succeeded in welding together an impressive and highly successful army of Shīʿī Persians and Sunnī Afghans. There can be no dispute about the very high degree of competence he possessed as a military leader. But in no other respect is it possible to find much that is positive to say about him. He showed little if any concern for the general welfare of the country or his subjects. He made enormous demands for taxation on a land much of which was devastated, imposing the death penalty on those who failed to pay. He concentrated all power in his own hands, in this way accentuating a decline in the efficiency of the traditional Persian bureaucracy.

In Nādir’s later years, revolts began to break out against his oppressive rule. He became gradually less sane and more cruel. Towards the end, even his own tribesmen felt that he was too dangerous a man to be near. A group of Qizilbash murdered him in 1160/1747. There was now nothing to keep his army together. One of the Afghan leaders, Aḥmad Khān, left Persia and returned home, where he founded the Durrānī empire: he has some claim to be regarded as the founder of modern Afghanistan. Nādir’s family proved unable to maintain the Afshār dynasty as rulers of Persia; but one of them, the blind Shāh Rukh, did manage to keep hold of the capital, Mashhad, and of the province of Khurāsān, for nearly fifty years.

Nader Shah’s Second Invasion of the Ottoman Empire​

Nader’s campaigns in Central Asia had been somewhat less dramatic than his campaign in India. However, the ramifications of his success in dealing with the Uzbeks and other nomadic confederations in the region were significant, especially for the inhabitants of Nader’s power base in Khorasan. During the long decline of the Safavids, Uzbek slave raiders operated from Tashkent, praying on settled peoples in Persia and Central Asia. This activity had made Tashkent a hub for the slave trade. Although Nader had relatively little sympathy for the troubles of settled people when compared to the Safavids and his own successors, he nevertheless recognized that nomadic slavers were detrimental to the wealth and stability of his burgeoning empire. Furthermore his campaigns in Central Asia further reinforced his goal of emulating Tamerlane. By the winter of 1742, Nader had received the submission of most Uzbek Khans, and had established garrisons as far as the Aral Sea. With the use of similar techniques to the Russians and the Chinese, Nader left his nephew Ali Qoli as viceroy in Central Asia to weaken the power of the nomads there.

Nader was by no mean sated by the conquests he had embarked on so far, and now looked west toward the Ottoman Empire. He considered himself as having “unfinished business” with the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud, and desired a number of concessions from the Ottoman Empire, which included the ceding of Mesopotamia and much of the Armenian Highlands. In addition to this, he wanted official recognition of the Jafari’ madhhab and a recognized position of primacy in the Islamic World. The last concession was ambitious to the point of folly, as it would essentially render the Ottoman Sultan’s title of Caliph hollow. Nader’s ambitions in his last war with the Ottomans would be every bit as ambitious as his wars in India and Central Asia, even if he was aiming for less than the complete conquest of the Ottoman Empire.

The preparations for the war were no less ambitious. A total of 250,000 troops would be mobilized for the war, which was such a significant expenditure that despite the windfall from India, taxes still had to be raised. The taxes were resented, though not quite to the ruinous level that had been seen in the waning years of the Safavids, which minimized the unrest which Nader faced due to the taxes. The few rebellions which did arise were easily dispatch by Nader’s armies. As well as these other preparations, the question of a regent in Persia needed to be settled. Nader’s crown prince, Reza Qoli, had performed admirably as regent during Nader’s invasion of India. However, Nader had taken exception to the rather ostentatious manner that Reza had taken up as regent, and his reported arbitrary cruelty reported reminded Nader too much of the Safavids. After careful consideration, Nader decided to take Reza Qoli with him on his invasion of the Ottoman Empire, leaving his trusted lieutenant Taqi Khan as regent in Persia instead.

Nader seemed to have hoped that he could personally influence Reza, drawing him away from the kind of luxury that he had hated about the Safavids, and imparting what Nader saw as good, Turkic values of clean and simple living. The fact that the supposedly decadent Safavid dynasty which he had overthrown had Turkic origins as well was clearly forgotten. Judging by the later rule of Reza Qoli, it appeared that Nader’s attempt at persuading Reza to embrace his Turkic roots were not too successful, though to some extent the taste for luxury seemed to have moderated following the invasion of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, it allowed Reza a chance to prove his military finesse once again, as he was chosen to head the Persian Northern army, given the task of taking Kars while Nader invaded Mesopotamia.

The Persian invasion of the Ottoman Empire began quite well. Nader’s siege train had improved considerably since the last war, and he was now able to take the fortresses that had eluded him in the last war with the Ottomans. After a fierce but quick assault, Mosul fell after just two weeks of siege. To the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud, this was deeply disturbing news, and he began preparing to march out to his eastern borders in order to meet the Persian threat. Although disturbed by the Persian invasion, Mahmud had previously defeated the Austrians, and was confident that his forces would be able to contain the Persians. What he had not counted on was the military revolution that had taken place within Persia. Nader now commanded perhaps the most finely drilled, effectively administered and professional force outside of Europe. Morale was high following success in India, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and the prospect of success and booty was enough to ensure that Nader did not have to resort to levies of peasants. The Persian army was now the harbinger of the “Military Revolution” in the Middle East. Though the unreformed Ottoman armies fought bravely, they were completely outclassed.

While the Ottoman forces at this point were not as decrepit as is popularly imagined, they had not made the jump to a modern method of army administration as the Persians had. Ottoman troops were not always paid on time, and some of those who were did not serve upon the request of the Sultan. The Janissaries had become a nuisance as early as the early 17th century, when they had murdered the young Sultan Osman II who had planned to replace them with a more effective fighting force. Now, the Janissaries had turned into a group that resembled an organized criminal organization as much as an army. Many continued to draw salaries from the Sultan, but supplemented this income through racketeering and their own ties to guilds. In a situation that had mirrored Japan’s, many of the supposed military class undertook other occupations. Far fewer of the Janissaries joined Sultan Mahmud than hoped, which left the Ottoman army with fewer men then had been expected.

Nader gradually took all the fortresses and cities of Iraq, capturing Baghdad in the spring of 1746 and crushing the army of Ahmad Pasha. Now he was able to join with his son Reza Qoli and advance through Anatolia on Constantinople. The Ottoman Sultan Mahmud was in Konya, hoping to block the way, but as he received news that the Persians were closing his position, he pulled back his forces to Constantinople, fearing a repeat of the Battle of Karnal. His dreams of smashing the Persians and regaining some of the lands that had been lost were now abandoned, and his thoughts turned to leveraging his existing power to protect his own empire rather than rolling the dice. He was well aware of the threats that Austria and Russia now presented to the weakened Ottoman Empire. He appealed to Nader’s own self image as a Turkic warrior, and offered to settle their differences at a Qoroltai [1]. Keen to see if he could secure his reward without a potentially bloody battle, Nader accepted the Ottoman Sultan’s proposal.

The two men met, reportedly exchanging warm welcomes as fellow Turkmen and Muslims, though beneath the cordial surface, there was a lot of tension between the two men. Mahmud was under intense pressure from the Sheikh-ul-Islam and the Ottoman religious establishment to deny recognition of the Jafari’ Madhab. Nader wanted territorial concessions, as well as a recognition of Persia’s status as a member of the Sunni Muslim world. These would be bitter pills to swallow, though Mahmud was aware that he would risk much be denying Nader his wishes. He did try to balance this with a settlement that would secure the Ottoman Empire’s security, and with a mixture of flattery and appeals to their shared religion, attempted to persuade Nader into acting as a Ghazi for the Islamic faith, turning his sword against non-Muslim powers. After several days of meetings that involved Nader, his son and numerous Ottoman dignitaries including the later Sultan Mustafa, the Treaty of Constantinople was agreed upon by both parties.

The treaty itself was a near-revolutionary document. It announced the Ottoman Caliph’s recognition of the Jafari’ Madhab as the fifth school of Sunni Islam, and congratulated Persia on its rejection of heresy (which of course, produced suitable amounts of outrage amongst the Ottoman Ulema). It gave Mesopotamia and a swathe of Eastern Anatolia to Iran, including the Black Sea port of Batumi, which was the largest territorial concession that the Ottoman Empire had made in her history. The Ottomans gave a significant indemnity to Nader worth around £10 million pounds sterling at the time, which while not being anywhere near the sum that Nader had wrested from India, marked a significant windfall for the Persian government. In return, Persia was to swear off any further aggressive actions toward the Ottoman Empire, and was obligated to aid the Ottomans in future wars with the Russians rather than allying with Russia as she had done in the 1730s. Nader was pleased by the treatment of Persia as an equal rather than a less powerful state, and agreed to the treaty.

Nader had achieved much in his invasion. He had brought the Persian Empire to its territorial apex, stretching from the deserts of Arabia to the borders of China, and from the Black Sea to the Arabian Sea. Despite his high taxes, unorthodox religious policies and disregard for the previous Safavid ruling family, Nader’s success had secured his position among the people of Persia. He had restored internal security, defeated her neighbours and endowed her army with glory. However, economically little had changed in Persia. Although there was some economic recovery with the restoration of political stability, Nader saw the cities and farmlands of Persia as a resource to be exploited when needed rather than nurtured. However, this suited Persian peasants, who preferred organization in their own corporate structures rather than heavy government intervention. In the later years of his reign, there was a growing rift between himself and Reza Qoli, whose priorities were becoming more closely entwined with the Persian majority in the Empire, rather than with the Turkmen as his fathers were.

Note on Dates

The Muslim era opens with the Hijra (sometimes spelt Hegira), i.e. the Flight or Emigration of the Prophet Muḥammad from Mecca to Medina in AD 622. Muslim years are therefore indicated by the abbreviation AH (Anno Hegirae). The Muslim year consists of twelve lunar months and is therefore approximately eleven days shorter than the solar year of the Western (Julian or Gregorian) calendar. To find the Western (AD) equivalent to Muslim (AH) dates and vice versa, conversion tables are necessary. A useful compendium is G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, The Muslim and Christian Calendars, London 1963. It should be noted that the Muslim day begins at sunset and thus straddles part of two Western days.

Other peoples who appear in this article had their own ways of calculating the date: e.g. the Mongols used a twelve-year cycle (borrowed from the Chinese) in which each year was named after an animal. Hence if we are told that Chingiz Khān was born in the Year of the Pig, this may refer either to AD 1155 or to AD 1167. In this article dates are usually given in both AH and AD forms, in that order, e.g. 656/1258. In some cases the AH date is inappropriate, and a single date is always an AD one. To avoid unnecessary clumsiness, decades (e.g. “the 1250s”) and centuries (e.g. “the thirteenth century”) are given only in AD form.

Privateers and Navies versus Merchants

“USS Bon Homme Richard vs. HMS Serapis on 23 September 1779,” by Anton Otto Fischer

After the declaration of war by the French, matters grew worse increasing the losses of ship-owners, freighters and consignees. The Lydia, Captain Dean, from Jamaica to Liverpool, serves as an example, for she was seized, taken to Maryland and sold with her cargo for £20,400. British privateers were also captured, as we shall see, but typical was the capture of Warren & Co.’s Dragon which, under Captain Briggs, had herself seized a number of rebel American and French ships. One of the latter, taken in February 1779 was La Modeste and she had been secured by members of the Dragon’s crew swimming across to her to take possession, since a the sea was running too high to launch a boat. The Dragon did equally well under Captain Reed the following year but in September 1781, Captain Gardner was obliged to strike her colours to a French frigate and submit to being taken in to Brest.

French frigates were particularly dangerous, often sailing as fast as a privateer, particularly as wind and sea rose, and usually of far greater fire-power. The 32-gun British frigate Minerva, having been captured and commissioned by the French in 1778, fell in with the Belcour of Liverpool, Captain Moore, in May 1779. Moore bore a Letter-of-Marque and had the previous year taken a schooner worth £1,000 and a French brig valued at £2,500. Now, on a passage from Halifax to Jamaica, the tables were turned and Moore found himself fighting for his life.

We engaged [the Minerva]…full two hours and a half, the furthest distance she was off was not more than pistol shot, a great part of the time yard arm and yard arm, as we term it, but that you may better understand it, her sides and ours touched each other, so that sometimes we could not [with]draw our rammers. The French, I assure you, we drove twice from their quarters, but unluckily their wads set us on fire in several places, and then we were obliged to strike. You may consider our condition, our ship on fire, our sails, masts and rigging being all cut to pieces, several of our men severely mangled. The French seeing our ship on fire, would not come to our assistance for fear of the ship blowing up, as soon as the fire reached the magazine, which it did five minutes after I was out of her. The sight was dreadful, as there was(sic) many poor souls on board. You will be anxious to know how we that were saved got out of her. We hove the small boat overboard in a shattered condition…and made two or three trips on board the frigate before she [the Belcour] blew up. The next morning, we picked up four men that were on pieces of the wreck…

Moore goes on to list the dead: the third mate, the surgeon and his mate, eleven seamen, ‘three Negroes and a child, passengers’.

Another successful French frigate was the 28-gun L’Aigle which, in the spring of 1780 took the Liverpool privateer Tartar, Captain Butler, ‘after a chase of eight hours and an engagement on one hour and a quarter’. In three weeks L’Aigle seized nine prizes, a fact lamented by Butler from prison in Bayonne in a letter to his ship’s owners. A heavier French cruiser, the Fripon of 44-guns, took the privateer Patsey off the Hebrides on 31 May 1781. During a fight lasting ninety minutes before her colours came down, Captain Dooling, his sailing master and six of the Patsey’s crew were killed and a number wounded. That October a French 44-gun frigate engaged the merchantman Quaker off Newfoundland. Despite her pacifist name, the Quaker’s master, Captain Evans, had furnished her with a Letter-of-Marque and in the autumn of 1781 she had arrived at Halifax with a 13-gun American privateer as her prize. Early the following year she took three prizes in to Antigua where they realised £21,000 and it was while returning north that, again on the Grand Banks, she fell in with the French frigate in a fog. Undaunted, Evans exchanged a broadside – in which one of the ship’s boys was killed and another wounded – then made all sail. After a chase of twelve hours Evans threw his pursuer off and got clear away and in the New Year of 1783 he captured another prize, a Letter-of-Marque brig from Martinique to France with a cargo of sugar, coffee and cocoa worth £10,000. Such men were redoubtable and one of the most renowned was Nehemiah Holland.

In July 1777 Captain Nehemiah Holland of the Sarah Goulburn, who had distinguished himself in the previous war, took the Sally of Charleston, South Carolina, when on her way to Nantes with rice and indigo. Throughout the war the trade between the rice plantations in North America and France was a rich hunting-ground for British privateers, capitalising on the rebel necessity to establish new markets for their produce. Tea, silk and wine went the other way and several privateers would form an ex officio squadron, agreeing to share prize money. In the winter of 1778/9 the Liverpoolmen Molly, Captain Woods, the Wasp, Captain Byrne, and the Bess took a number of prizes, though the Molly was, long afterwards, captured by a brace of French frigates. Captain Ash of the 20-gun Terrible seized two valuable prizes on a single day that spring, and also recaptured the Leinster Packet, which had been taken by the American privateer Rocket the previous day when bound from Bristol to Galway. A few days later, on 28 February, Captain Grimshaw, in command of Hall & Co.’s 14-gun Griffin, entered the Mersey with a French prize, Le Comte de St Germain which he had captured after a spirited running action lasting eight hours. The two vessels had been evenly matched in fire-power, though the Frenchman carried a smaller complement. The prize contained a cargo of tortoise-shell, indigo, sugar, molasses, coffee, cotton and cocoa. Other privateers profiting from this trade route were Wagner & Co.’s Dreadnought, Davenport’s Sturdy Beggar; and Captain Allanson’s aptly-named Vulture. However, success itself ran its own risk, as Captain Leigh of the Mary Ann discovered. Having taken thirteen prizes valued at £10,000, the Mary Ann was homeward-bound when she struck the Tusker Rock off the east coast of Ireland. Fortunately most of her cargo of indigo was salved and all her crew saved.

Many privateers, like the Griffin, performed a useful service in retaking captured vessels from the enemy. On 10 December 1778 the privateer Atalanta, 16-guns, Captain Collinson, recaptured the brig Eagle from Newfoundland to Cadiz with fish, and the following winter the Rawlinson and Clarendon, lying off Land’s End, retook the Weymouth Packet ‘which had sailed from Jamaica without convoy and had been taken by the General Sullivan privateer, of Portsmouth, New England’. The importance of recovering such a vessel, with mails, bills of exchange, currency and so forth is self-evident. Later, in May 1781, the 10-gun Ferret, Captain Archer, having been seized by a French corsair, was retaken by the privateer Vulture from Jersey. A few prizes were recovered by their own people, such as the Grace, Captain Wardley, seized in the Irish Sea by the privateer Lexington but carried to Torbay instead of France; and the Lively, which is discussed later. Such exertions were often risky. When in April 1781 the Balgrove was captured by a French corsair a prize-crew of sixteen men were put on board. The Balgrove’s mate was unwilling to submit and, with only four men to help him, overpowered the prize-crew and took the ship into the Cove of Cork.

Nor had the Royal Navy’s cruisers been idle; taking 203 American merchantmen between 11 July 1777 and I January 1778, and recapturing fifteen British vessels in rebel hands. Privateers from several British ports had also done their utmost to counter the enemy, but the anxieties and losses drove insurance rates inexorably upwards, a state of affairs only exacerbated by the entry of France into the war, along with her swarms of corsairs, and after her the other European maritime states. The American privateers, ‘though of limited naval value, certainly contributed to the Revolutionary cause, striking at the British merchant class, who, in turn, ventilated their opposition in Parliament’. This is a naval view, disparaging to the effort and effect of America’s private war on trade. The function of a nation’s maritime force, howsoever composed, is to destroy the enemy, attack his commerce and thereby ruin his economy. This was a view current at the time, for Thomas Jefferson considered that privateering was a national blessing ‘when a Country such as America then was, was at war with a commercial nation’. American analysis concludes that the 676 privateers commissioned under the new ensign of thirteen red stripes took ‘over 1,600’ British merchantmen. This, of course, excludes captures by the small but efficient Continental Navy and the very much greater impact of French corsairs, and of her men-of-war after 1778.

Such was the alarm in high places that all British merchant vessels were ordered to sail under convoy, though this was never fool-proof. When the man-of-war Falcon, the escort to a West India convoy, became separated from her charges, two of the merchant ship-masters, Captains William Buddecome and George Ross, undertook the defence, for which they received gifts of silver plate. Convoy, when carried out efficiently, proved its value.

In the third week in September, 1778, it was announced that all the principal fleets [i.e. mercantile convoys] had arrived safely, namely, The Jamaica fleet at Liverpool and Bristol; the Leeward Islands fleet at Plymouth, and the Lisbon and Spanish fleets in the Downs. The arrivals that week were the largest that had been known for many years. In October the London underwriters calculated that the losses sustained by the French since the proclamation of reprisals amounted to upwards of £1,200,000.

When the outward-bound West India convoy sailed in March 1779 it did so under the not inconsiderable escort of two 74-gun line-of-battle-ships, a 50-gun ship and two frigates. This was not the case in August the following year when, as will shortly be related in relation to the East India Company, the combined convoys bound to the East and West Indies were abandoned by their naval escort commanded by Captain John Moutray and captured by Admiral Cordoba’s squadrons. Significant among the fifty-two vessels taken by the Spanish were the Government-chartered victuallers and store-ships, four of which – the Lord Sandwich, Eliza, Friendship and Brilliant – carried stores for the army in the Leeward Islands; eleven of them – the Sisters, Nereus, John, Susannah, Jupiter, Lord North, Eagle, Hambro’ Merchant, Charming Sally, Charlotte and James and Jane – bore provisions for the naval squadrons in the West Indies, while the Arwin Galley and Hercules were loaded with ‘camp equipage and naval stores’. Excepting the five Indiamen captured by Cordoba and mentioned in Chapter Two, the remaining twenty-nine of his prizes consisted of ‘the trade’.

What made the commander of the escort’s conduct so reprehensible was that shortly before falling in with Cordoba, Captain Moutray had met a north-bound convoy under Captain George Johnstone in the Romney, man-of-war. Johnstone, an unpleasant man and afterwards an outspoken MP, commanded a heavy escort covering ‘forty sail, carrying 10,463 pipes of wine’ homeward from Oporto and it seems he warned Moutray of the activity of enemy squadrons. Even when he was apprised of enemy ships in the offing on the 8th, Moutray dismissed them as ‘nothing but Dutchmen’. However, in mitigation, it should be noted that when Moutray belatedly discovered his error and hoisted the signal for the convoy to tack and stand to the northward, most of the merchantmen failed to see or to obey the order and only those that did, the British Queen, the brig Rodney ‘and two others’, escaped Cordoba. However, nightfall and a hazy dawn combined with light winds probably prevented most of the convoy from being aware of Moutray’s signals, an opinion given in evidence at Moutray’s court-martial by Captain William Garnier of H.M. Frigate Southampton. Damningly, Moutray did not send either of his two frigates to recall the convoy, standing away to the north as disaster overtook his charges.

Indeed, between the Spring of 1779 and the late summer of 1780, the enemy struck at British merchantmen with near-catastrophic results. ‘It was,’ according to Gibb in his official history of Lloyd’s, ‘the heaviest blow that British commerce had received in living memory, the downfall of many respectable firms and the direct cause of half the underwriters in Lloyd’s Coffee-House failing to meet their obligations’, a summation Gibb attributes to one of them, John Walter, who afterwards founded The Times newspaper. A consequence of this turmoil on the insurance market was that the underwriters, of whom there were then less than one hundred and who now owned Lloyd’s Coffee House and had formed the Society of Lloyd’s, revised their standard marine insurance policy with three enduring additional clauses – waiver, war risks and frustration.

Further destruction of shipping contributing to the general air of ruin was caused by one man in a remarkable twenty-eight day cruise round the British Isles. Captain John Paul Jones was an unsavoury character, a renegade Scot who was disliked by his peers, but who possessed a savage fighting instinct. Born in 1747 in Kirkudbrightshire, he began his career in the British mercantile marine apprenticed to a Whitehaven ship-owner. On his first voyage Jones visited his elder brother who had emigrated to take up tailoring in Fredericksburg, Virginia, opening Jones’s eyes to possibilities in the colonies. When Jones’s employer went bankrupt his indentures were broken and Jones shipped in a slaver. By the age of nineteen he had risen to chief mate but he then gave the trade up in the West Indies. Taking passage home from Jamaica, Jones took command of the vessel when the master and mate both died. The ship’s owners granted him and the crew ten percent of the freight and offered Jones the position of master of the John of Dumfries.

Jones made several voyages to the West Indies in the John, on one of which he flogged the ship’s carpenter for neglect of duty. The man afterwards died and Jones was accused of murder by the carpenter’s father and consequently arrested. Tried in Dumfries, he was acquitted, found employment as master of the Betsy of London and by 1773 was back in the Antilles. Jones’s conduct towards his men provoked a mutiny when the Betsy lay off Tobago, evidence that Jones was typical of the harsher master of his day. His later apologists claim that in the confrontation the ring-leader of the mutineers ran upon Jones’s sword but among the seamen of the islands his name stank, particularly as he avoided facing charges by escaping to lie low in America. Here he was unemployed until the outbreak of the rebellion, when he went to Philadelphia to help fit-out the first Congressional man-of-war, the Alfred. Ingratiating himself with two congressmen involved with establishing what became the Continental Navy, Jones was offered a commission as lieutenant in December 1775 and served in the Alfred without distinction until, in 1776, he was given command of the Providence. It was now that he began to take prizes with the dash and élan that ultimately ensured his place in the pantheon of American naval heroes. As a consequence of his success he was given a small squadron, promoted to captain and repaid the confidence by taking sixteen prizes.

However, Jones was a man of touchy pride and a notion of his own superior abilities. His placing as 18th on the seniority list of the Continental Navy irked him and he began to make himself unpopular until Congress gave him command of the Ranger and sent him to France. Here he was to have assumed command of a larger, Dutch-built man-of-war, but found the ship had been given to the French by the American Commissioners in Paris so, leaving Brest in disgust, he headed for the Irish Sea, landing and raiding Whitehaven on 27-28 April 1778, burning the shipping in the harbour before crossing the Solway in an attempt to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk. The earl was disobligingly absent, so Jones and his crew helped themselves to what they wanted before heading for the Irish coast. Off Carrickfergus the Ranger fell in with HM Sloop-of-war Drake. In a furious action in which Jones lost eight killed and wounded to his opponent’s forty, he took the Drake and returned triumphantly to Brest on 8 May with another seven prizes. The alarm his raid – particularly that upon Whitehaven – caused along the British coast was augmented by reports of sightings of other rebel vessels. Jones’s presence with his prizes in Brest, demonstrating weaknesses in Britain’s seaward defences as it did, occurred as the French ministry were meditating revenge upon Britain for her victories of 1759 by a declaration of war. Jones was summoned to Paris for consultations. On 4 February 1779 he was informed that he would be put in charge of a former French East Indiaman fitting out as a man-of-war which Jones renamed as the Bonhomme Richard, a tribute to the American envoy in Paris, Benjamin Franklin who had once edited a New England periodical called Poor Richard’s Almanac.

In addition to the Bonhomme Richard, Jones was given a small squadron of French officered, manned and financed vessels with which to repeat his raid upon the British coast. His French colleagues – officers of the ancien régime – disliked Jones for his ill-bred manners, regarding him as a parvenu, but his successes spoke for themselves. Leaving L’Orient on 14 August 1779, Jones’s squadron returned to the Irish Sea, striking terror by the seizures of coasting vessels, rumours of which exaggerated the effects of his raid so that Jones’s successful cruise against merchant shipping around the British Isles added to the unsettlement of the entire British countryside for the whole of that summer.

[I]t was announced in the newspapers that the Duchess of Devonshire, and Lord and Lady Spencer, on their return from taking the waters at Spa, had arrived safe and sound at Harwich, although their ship had been attacked on the passage by two French cutters. The enemy had been beaten off by the Fly sloop, under the command of Captain Garner, after a long engagement in which an officer of the British vessel had been shot dead, and several of her crew killed and wounded; and it was allowed on all hands that the ladies had behaved admirably.

Even the sight of the homeward Jamaica convoy caused confusion in Brighton, where ‘the quality’ took it for an invasion fleet. The actual and imminent descent of a combined fleet of French and Spanish men-of-war had been reported, Spain having opportunistically joined the war in meditation of recovering Minorca and Gibraltar, and avenging herself for the loss of Florida and the coast of Honduras. This enemy fleet in the Channel was, in fact, a more significant threat than that of John Paul Jones (or indeed the Spanish Armada of 1588) and was aimed at Britain’s naval heart: Portsmouth, but the Combined Fleet dithered, so it was August before the twin forces of the fleets of France and Spain, along with Jones’s little squadron, were at large. The British Channel Fleet under Sir Charles Hardy, operating in misty weather, caught sight only once of their enemy as they slipped past, and the allies might have affected the landing so anxiously desired by Choiseul and Vergennes, had not a lack of supplies exacerbated by outbreaks of scurvy and disagreement between the French and Spanish commanders forced them to retire. Thus did inefficiency snatch defeat from the jaws of possible victory.

John Paul Jones had better luck. His ships worked north, through the Hebrides, where: ‘Our Northern sea-board was everywhere exposed to insult. The packet which plied from Tarbet to the Western parts of Argyllshire was captured in the Sound of Islay’. After his appearance before Leith, which he unsuccessfully attempted to ‘lay under contribution’, townsfolk all along the coast feared his coming. A public assembly was called in Kingston-upon-Hull to arrange defences for the River Humber and the Marquis of Rockingham promised to ‘treat the town with a battery of eighteen-pounders’.

Jones’s presence was an affront to the Royal Navy, particularly when on 23 September 1779 he fell upon a Baltic convoy off Flamborough Head. Jones’s ships succeeded in defeating the escort, H.M. Frigate Serapis and her consort, a sloop-of-war, in a fierce, celebrated and bloody action which ended in the surrender of Captain Pearson and the sinking of the Serapis. Within hours the shot-battered Bonhomme Richard also foundered, drawing Jones’s teeth, but he escaped with his prizes to reach the Texel. While Jones had established a legend, Pearson had at least largely succeeded in defending his convoy and, at terrible cost, ended Jones’s cruise.

The day after Jones’s victory the French corsair Dunkerque, Capitaine J.B.Royer, took the merchantman Three Friends of Liverpool, Captain Samuel Maine, who was caught off the Island of Jura. Not only the French and the Americans, but the Irish were active, the Black Prince taking the Lively, Captain Watts, in the English Channel in January 1780. However, a high sea was running and the prize-crew was unable to board, so Watts was ordered to follow his captor. He did this until darkness enabled him to run, but two days later the Lively had the misfortune to be captured by a 44-gun French frigate. Watts and most of his crew were removed and an officer and twelve seamen were placed on board, joining three of the ship’s boys who had been left behind. The Lively now grew leaky and the prize-crew tired of incessant pumping, fell asleep, whereupon the three boys seized some cutlasses, repossessed themselves of their ship and, shortly afterwards arriving off Kinsale, making a signal of distress. This was seen by the local population who opportunistically boarded the Lively and began plundering her but, with the help of local pilots, the Lively was brought into port where Captain M’Arthur of the Hercules, a Letter-of-Marque, took her over and beat off the looters.

The appearance of rebel Irish on their doorstep prompted the Liverpool merchants to petition the Admiralty for better protection and Their Lordships responded by increasing the number of cruisers in the Irish Sea by two frigates and a brace of cutters. There was much need for this. The scandal of enemy privateers operating in home waters with impunity was bad enough, but greater opprobrium attached to a navy that failed to protect tax-paying merchants from a home-grown menace. Although Edward Macartney had lived in France for some years and his ship, the Black Princess, flew the Bourbon ensign and carried a French Letter-of-Marque, her commander had been born in Ireland. Macartney’s Black Princess seized the John of Newcastle off the Mull of Galloway in July 1780 despite a spirited defence by Captain Rawson and his crew. Badly hurt and with his second mate also wounded and one man dead, Rawson hauled down his colours. Taking possession of his prize, Macartney agreed to the John’s release upon a surety for a ransom of £1,000, a sum which Rawson considered rapacious, refusing to sign the requisite documents. At this opposition Macartney withheld the services of a surgeon from the wounded and, on Rawson’s further protestations, gave the intimidating order to burn the John and her crew with her. Rawson capitulated. Some time later Macartney was captured and imprisoned at Plymouth.

A more notorious Irish privateer was Patrick Dowling who cruised in the Western Approaches and among whose prizes was the Olive Branch outward-bound from Liverpool to Charleston in 1781. She was ransomed for 7,700 guineas but Dowling, like Macartney, appears to have adopted extreme measures, perhaps because unlike his countryman who flew the French flag, Dowling could not avail himself of the prize-system and was more pirate than privateer. At the time of his taking the Olive Branch he had on board his own ship some seventeen ‘ransomers’ out of a tally of twenty-two prizes. The five who would not – or could not – oblige Dowling, were sunk. Clearly Dowling found ransom satisfactory, restoring his captures to their owners – at a price – and banking large sums himself, presumably thereby avoiding attracting too much unwelcome attention. The William of Bristol was released for 900 guineas, the Elizabeth, bound for Cork raised 800, the Sally for Guernsey 700, and a Maryport vessel put another 750 guineas in Dowling’s pocket.

Dowling and Macartney were by no means the only Irish commerce-raiders attacking British shipping in those last years of war. Nor were the Irish the only practitioners of ransom: the French were equally good at it. When the corsair Le Comte de Guichen was taken by HM Frigate Aurora, Captain Collins recovered a sheaf of ransom documents: the Peace of Whitehaven, 2,000 guineas; the Spooner of Glasgow, 1,800; the Six Sisters from the Isle of Man and Fortitude of Greenock, 1,500 each; the Sally of Strangford, 500 guineas; the two Workington vessels Lark and Glory, 450 between them, with two other bottoms adding 1,610 guineas to the total.

It was a see-saw war on both sides, but despite the serious effect the enemy’s war on trade had upon the British economy – the aspect most emphasised in conventional assessments – the British privateering war on American trade was itself of some countervailing significance. Our old friend William Boats, in partnership with William Gregson, commissioned several privateers and employed a number of energetic and able captains. One of these was Captain Jolly who in early 1778 commanded the Ellis, in which he took the Endeavour and Nancy, both loaded with sugar and rum. Later, handing over the Ellis to Captain Washington, he transferred to the Gregson and then cruised in company with his old vessel. Both these privateers were substantial, the Ellis of 340 tons burthen, 28-guns and 130 men; the Gregson of 250 tons, 24-guns and 120 men. Between them they took La Ville du Cap, from St Domingo to Nantes with sugar, coffee, cotton, rum and indigo, and the L’Aigle from port-au-Prince to Nantes with a similar cargo. Separating, Jolly next took a small privateer which he disarmed and released, followed by the snow La Genevieve, outward from Nantes for St Domingo with flour, wines and a general cargo. Captain Washington, meanwhile, was busy seizing the snow Josephine, full of oil, soap, brimstone and straw hats destined for Dunkerque.

Curiously a reduced form of trade between the belligerent powers sometimes continued, so that a wine merchant in Manchester was able to learn from his shipper in Bordeaux that:

Very many rich and respectable merchants here, have been already ruined by the great success of your privateers and cruisers. Many more must fall soon. May God, of his mercy to us, put an end speedily to this destructive and ridiculous war.

This contribution of privateers to the general war-effort is largely ignored by the eulogist extolling the exploits of naval cruisers but the wine-merchant’s cri de coeur is eloquent enough. On the British side investment, in prospect of attractive return, was not confined to the usual ship-owning classes. Short of money, the Marquis and Marchioness of Granby had an interest in several privateers, including the Lady Granby and the Marchioness of Granby. Such was the impact of the enemy war on British trade on the one hand, and British retaliation in the same vein with prizes said to have been worth £100,000 coming into the Mersey alone.

Mercenaries in Bohemia, the Rhineland, the Low Countries, 1618–1625 I

The first stirrings of the conflict that would escalate into the bloody Thirty Years War took place in the kingdom of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic but then a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the conglomeration of electorates, duchies, principalities, counties, lordships, free cities and even free villages that sprawled across the heart of the continent. The power of the emperor was limited by a constitution first established in 1338. In the first place, he was an elected sovereign and in theory, if not always in practice, the title was not an hereditary one. Seven electors chose the emperor: three bishops – of Trier, Cologne and Mainz – along with the King of Bohemia, the Elector of the Rhineland Palatinate, the Elector of Saxony and the Margrave of Brandenburg. The emperor legislated through the Reichstag, whose members comprised three colleges, that of the Electoral Council (the seven electors mentioned above), the Council of Princes and the Council of the Imperial Cities.

This constitutional edifice, with its endless possibilities for intrigue and alliance, was further complicated by the Reformation, when many of the constituent states adopted Protestantism. By 1560, little over forty years after Martin Luther had nailed his call for religious reform to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Europe was split by a doctrinal divide. Spain, most of France, Italy and the Adriatic coast as far as the frontier with the Islamic Ottoman Empire, along with the Spanish Netherlands, the Tyrol and Bavaria, remained loyal to the Catholic Church, as did the Habsburg emperor himself. All of Scandinavia, the Baltic lands, Prussia and the northern German-speaking territories adopted Lutheranism, before some veered again to adhere to the more extreme doctrines of Calvinism. The latter group included Scotland, which became officially Calvinist in 1560. It was not, however, a clean break. Parts of France had significant Calvinist minorities, and Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Transylvania and various parts of Austria were split between all three sects. In Bohemia and Moravia a fourth denomination, the Hussites, also appeared. In some of the states of the Empire, rulers and ruled now attended different churches.

This was a matter of concern in an age dominated by dynastic politics, with powerful families vying for wealth, territory and power. Despite some features of government – such as elected rulers and parliaments of sorts – that could be seen as embryonic manifestations of the democratic systems of the modern age, Europe was governed essentially by a network of ruling families whose main aim was to nurture their own status and survival. In 1618 in Britain the Stuarts ruled, in France the Bourbons, in Sweden the Vasas, in Denmark the Oldenburgs, and slightly further down the social scale there were such dynasties as the Hohenzollerns in Prussia, the Wettins in the Saxon duchies and the Wittelsbachs in Bavaria and the Rhineland. The Habsburgs were the most powerful of all, ruling Spain and the Empire. In this Europe of pernicious intrigue who married whom could be of the utmost importance.

In 1612 the Stuarts, James VI and I and his queen, Anne of Denmark, entertained in London the young Prince Frederick from the Rhineland Palatinate. The visit coincided with the fatal illness of the eldest Stuart prince, Henry, but arrangements for the marriage between Frederick and Elizabeth Stuart, James’s eldest daughter, went ahead. The queen was initially averse to the match, thinking a Rhineland prince not of a status to merit her daughter’s hand. Frederick was a catch in every other way. A handsome 22-year-old Wittelsbach with winning ways, he had turned his back on the drinking and hunting favoured by his forebears to establish a court in Heidelberg that was a showcase for the lavish styles in art and culture emanating from France. His capital had a theatre, a famous garden, library and university, and it was at the centre of the Lower Palatinate, a spread of territories along the Rhine and the Neckar that were famed as the garden of Germany. The Palatinate lands also included a more rugged but still valuable stretch known as the Upper Palatinate, between Nuremberg, Pilsen and Regensburg, ruled on Frederick’s behalf by Prince Christian von Anhalt-Bernburg. Frederick and Elizabeth married in Whitehall on 14 February 1613; it was a love-match that was to produce thirteen children and the couple would have had a peaceful, contented life, were it not that they allowed themselves to be drawn into events on the other side of the Empire.

On 23 May 1618 an incident in Prague brought to a head long-simmering discontent between the Protestants in Bohemia and their Catholic rulers. The incident is the famous defenestration: two city governors and their secretary were hurled through a window in Hradčany Palace by a mob of rebellious citizens. Attempts to cool the over-heated confrontation and bring revolt to an end failed. As a candidate for the Bohemian throne and as a staunch Calvinist in his personal faith, Frederick supported the Protestant revolt. The Habsburg emperor, Matthias, in his capital of Vienna, sought to restore Catholic rights in this troubled corner of his domain and suppress the unrest, but the rebels, who had already expelled Jesuits and taken control of some towns, rejected the imperial olive branches. Two imperial armies were despatched into Bohemia, one from Flanders with Spanish backing and the second from Vienna. On 9 September they met and turned towards Prague.

The allies of the Protestants were also preparing for war and in September, with the help of the Duke of Savoy, who was no friend of the Habsburgs, Frederick sent an army to Bohemia under the command of Count Ernst von Mansfeld. Born in Luxembourg in 1580 as the illegitimate son of the governor of the Spanish fortress there, Mansfeld was a Catholic who had begun his military career in Habsburg service. ‘Hee did so season his youth with imployment and discipline that hee was able to command his own infirmities and became a master over his owne passions’, wrote one near contemporary of his. Taken prisoner by the Dutch during the fighting with Spain, Mansfeld found his own way to freedom through impressing his captors with his honourable behaviour: he rode to Brussels, then under Spanish control, and, when he found his side had no ransom to pay for him, kept his word to the Prince of Orange and returned to captivity. His freedom was finally granted when he swore not to take up arms against the Dutch again, and he went off to join the service of the Duke of Savoy. He may have willingly joined Frederick’s cause but, as a mercenary, he was using his military skills on behalf of his paymasters, the Protestant Union, an alliance of German Protestant interests. At thirty-eight years old, he was a veteran with a painful sense of the realities; he issued a warning to the Prague Protestants that the course they had embarked on could be wrecked by the unforeseen, no matter how firm their resolution. With 4,000 men, Mansfeld headed east and proceeded to capture a series of imperial garrison towns – ‘nay, he was so powerfull and firtunate . . . that he cleered all the passages into Bohemia, and entred so resolutely into the verie bowells of the Kingdome’, in William Crosse’s dramatic figure of speech – until the Empire retained control of only Pisek, Pilsen, Crumano (now Česky Krumlov) and Budweis (now České Budějovice). Mansfeld realised his guns were too weak to make much impression on Pilsen’s walls but, in a foretaste of later difficulties, Prague dragged its feet in responding to his request for larger ordnance; he had to ride to the capital himself, only to return with two cannon reluctantly provided. They were enough, however, and on 29 November Pilsen fell once the walls were breached. By the end of the year only the towns of Budweis and Crumano remained in the emperor’s hands.

The news of these events naturally was of great concern in the Stuart court in London, although James resorted to a policy of neutrality, refusing at first to send troops to assist his son-in-law but offering his services as a mediator between the rebels and the emperor. A belief in the divine right of kings bolstered strong doubts in James’s mind about the wisdom of having elected monarchs but he still felt for his son-in-law, even when the latter showed an annoying propensity to ignore advice. The Stuart king also wished to remain on good terms with the Spanish Habsburgs, and was dreaming of an alliance with them through marriage, such were the priorities of dynastic politics. Meanwhile, the Duke of Savoy committed more forces to the Bohemian cause and, as expected, the Habsburg rulers of Spain declared for their Austrian cousins.

The Empire began to regain lost ground in February 1619. Soon, however, the Bohemians, under Count Matthias Thurn, struck into Moravia and thrust towards Vienna itself. The ageing Emperor Matthias died in March 1619, setting in motion the electoral machinery of the Empire to choose his successor. His cousin Ferdinand was his heir to Habsburg lands and, although there was no certainty the Imperial crown would also come to him, in August the electors chose him to succeed Matthias. Two days before, the Bohemian rebels had declared the same man no longer their king and had elected Frederick of the Palatinate in his place. Frederick accepted the offer of the Bohemian crown, a position that gave him two votes in the Imperial constitution – as king of Bohemia and as elector of the Palatinate – and thereby threatened the balance of powers in central Europe. Seemingly unfazed by his situation, on 31 October, at the head of a large and splendid retinue, he and Elizabeth completed the journey from Heidelberg with a triumphal entry into Prague. He resisted the attempts by other princes of the Empire to persuade him to relinquish his new crown, and finally Ferdinand issued an ultimatum: resign the Bohemian throne by 1 June 1620 or become a rebel against the Empire. The Bohemian armed forces were now facing difficulties: on 10 June, they had suffered a reverse when Mansfeld was defeated at Zablati, and now, late in 1619, Count Thurn’s advance on Vienna ground to a halt.

There were some Scots in Habsburg service in the Empire, which was now poised to strike back at the rebels. For example, in 1619 Sir Henry Bruce, who had earlier served in the Low Countries and had joined Ferdinand’s court in 1617, had been appointed captain of the garrison in the town of Nikolsburg (now Mikulov) on the Moravian–Austrian border. A Catholic, Bruce’s shift in allegiance may have arisen from a sense of alienation from the resolutely Protestant Dutch, especially as in 1604 he had killed a Captain Hamilton in a duel and in 1607 had had to seek settlement of arrears. He may have been the same Henry Bruce who survived the killing in Gudbrandsdalen in 1612 but this cannot be established. The castle in Nikolsburg was threatened by rebel forces in December 1619 but Bruce managed to hold on for a time, though in the process he earned himself a bad name for his plundering of the nearby town of Breclav and his mistreatment of Jews and Anabaptists. Finally, in January 1620, he surrendered Nikolsburg to the rebels, left for Prague and then travelled to the Netherlands, where he tried to offer his military skills in the service of Elizabeth Stuart, an example of a Scot who was torn between loyalty to his faith and loyalty to a dynasty. There were a considerable number of Irish soldiers in the Habsburg forces and some of them also found their allegiance tested in the same way. A letter from Colonel John Butler, an Irish officer, written over a decade later in 1631 says: ‘I will let you understand whate a scruple I make of late to searve in these wars, for I protest before God, I did not heretofore understand as much as I doe now knowe, that the King of Sweedland is for the recovery of the Palatinate onely and we for the hindering of it, but for my parte I will sooner beg my bred than serve against my sacred King’s sister.’

A war resistant to all the diplomatic efforts to curtail it spread across central Europe during 1620 as the various nations took sides according to where they saw their interests lying, and as men of war turned their eyes towards this potential source of honour and wealth. Early in March a Scot called John Hume, then at Sedan, wrote to the minister of Libberton, near Edinburgh, to say that ‘Thaire is a horse companie gone out of this toune to the King of Boheme.’ Four companies of musketeers under the command of Sir John Seton of Carchunoth (possibly Gargunnock near Stirling) left the Netherlands to make their way to Bohemia. They reached their destination early in May – Seton had to find 200 men to replace losses, probably mostly through desertion, on the way – and were assigned to watch the frontier with Saxony in the Meissen area. Meanwhile, Frederick had sent Sir Andrew Gray to London in February to raise men for his forces. Gray’s background is obscure. He had seen service in Sweden for some years in the regiments commanded by Patrick Ruthven and Sir James Spens before temporarily joining the escort of Elizabeth Stuart to Heidelberg in 1613. As a Catholic and having been imprisoned for alleged involvement in a murder in Sweden, he probably took the opportunity to remain in the service of Frederick and Elizabeth. In London Gray was at first commanded to recruit quietly so as not to alarm the Spanish ambassador – James was still pursuing friendly relations with Habsburg Spain – but this restriction was soon removed and recruitment proceeded apace. On 19 April, the Privy Council in Holyrood ordered criminals to be enlisted, adding on the twenty-eighth that beggars and vagabonds, ‘maisterless men haveand no laughfull trade nor meanis of intertenyment’ should join the colours on possible pain of a whipping or being burnt on the cheek for a first refusal, and hanging for a second. The Privy Council also took the opportunity to rid the country of over a hundred mosstroopers from the reiving clans of the Borders. Some of the recruits soon deserted and were reported to be hiding in Edinburgh, Leith and Canongate. The Privy Council declared them to be ‘feeble and unwor[thie] dastartis, voyde of curage and of all honest and vertuous d[ispo]sitioun’ and gave them a period of grace in which to come back or risk hanging. Gray sailed with 1,500 men from Leith to Hamburg towards the end of May, and a further 1,000 English recruits took ship from the Thames estuary. One of them no doubt was James Nauchtie from Aberdeen, who preferred soldiering to marriage.

Among the officers who sailed from Leith was John Hepburn, the second son of the laird of Athelstaneford in East Lothian. Born in or around 1598, John may have studied at St Leonard’s College in St Andrews, where his name appears in the records for 1615, the same year in which he travelled to France, visiting Paris and Poitiers with a classmate, Robert Monro from Easter Ross. Monro was also to make a name for himself in the European wars, as we shall see, and the coincidence of the two men being friends and then both becoming mercenary commanders suggests the fashion at the time for military pursuits. Unlike Monro, Hepburn came from an old Catholic family and when Sir Andrew Gray set up a recruitment campaign with a camp at Monkrig, not far from Athelstaneford, the fact that Gray was also a Catholic may have added to the allure of the colours.

Gray’s men disembarked on the banks of the Elbe and moved east, reaching Boizenburg on 10 June and Cottbus, close to the present German–Polish frontier, on the 16th, after following a northerly route across Germany to avoid contact with Saxony, whose loyalty to the Protestant cause was not yet clear. An anonymous commentator noted their arrival in July: ‘Colonel Gray is (God be blessed) safely arrived in Lusatia with his Brittans: he hath mustred two thousand foure hundred brave men; they are mightily praysed for their modest behaviour in their passage.’ After some more remarks on how well the soldiers had behaved en route, so much that one begins to suspect propaganda, the writer notes, ‘They are all armed and the King’s Maiestie [Frederick] hath given them leave to rest themselves three weekes and it may be, will let them lie there still upon the Frontiers.’ Gray’s force, and probably also Seton’s and that of Sir Horace Vere, were assigned to Mansfeld’s corps, one of four comprising the Bohemian army. Some of the Scots and English troops from Gray’s Regiment were despatched under the command of John Hepburn to guard Frederick in Prague. In keeping his units together, Mansfeld had had to deal with discontent in the ranks. Pay had not been forthcoming, a perennial problem with mercenary armies, and one not helped when Frederick had hinted that officers were not treating their men fairly by possibly purloining the money sent for them. Mansfeld had to ride to Prague to confront the Bohemian government but came back with only a third of the amount he sought, and that grudgingly given. The commander spent it on treating the sick and wounded and settling debts, tried to get money out of the country landowners around him, and trusted to the good will his men showed to him.

The assembling defenders of Frederick and the Protestant cause were in action very soon in the south of Bohemia. In mid May Seton’s men took Prachatice, and in June the forces of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, which probably included Seton’s contingent, and others fought off an Imperial attack on Vodnany. Early in July they recaptured Tyn on the Vltava River. After this, Mansfeld and Saxe-Weimar separated, with the former moving to Neuhaus (now Jindrichuv Hradec). Towards the end of July 1620, the army of the Catholic League, led by Duke Maximilian of Bavaria and his experienced general, Count Johannes Tserklaes of Tilly, crossed into Austria while Spanish Habsburg forces from Flanders spilled into the Lower Palatinate to occupy Frederick’s home territory. Sections of the Bohemian army fell back before the advance, part of it reaching Neuhaus, at the time held by two companies under Seton, on 21 September. On the following day the combined Imperial forces reached Budweis. Mansfeld took his units, including Gray’s, west to the area around Pilsen, between Prague and Bavaria. Then Pisek fell to the Imperialists and at Nepomuk a few days later Gray and his men came under severe pressure from the vanguard of the enemy. Mansfeld was effectively sidelined in Pilsen, tempted by a call to withdraw from the conflict under terms from Maximilian of Bavaria, a course of action that he finally took after reminding the hapless Frederick in person that his contract had expired and had not been renewed.

The main part of the Bohemian army fell back on Prague. The final battle took place on 8 November on the slopes of the hill called, in Czech, Bila Hora, White Mountain, a few miles south of the capital. Thurn, still in command of the Bohemian forces, began the day with 15,000 men around him in a strong defensive position on the slopes but his troops, predominantly mercenaries, quickly crumbled before the Imperial attack, and a late cavalry charge failed to retrieve an advantage. The Bohemians broke, leaving 2,000 dead and wounded behind them, and the Imperial cause had triumphed. Frederick and Elizabeth fled along snowy back roads from Prague to Breslau (now Wroclaw). Here the heavily pregnant Elizabeth Stuart wrote a quick letter to her father that included a plea to James ‘to protect the king and myself, by sending us succour’. Long before the letter arrived in London she had given birth – to her fifth child, on 25 December – and was moving towards Wolfenbuttel in Brunswick to the safety of relatives. Shortly afterwards, she and Frederick set up a court in exile in the Hague, and became known thereafter as the Winter Queen and King. In 1623 Frederick was stripped of his rights as an elector of the Holy Roman Empire in favour of Maximilian of Bavaria.

At the time of the defeat on Bila Hora, Sir Andrew Gray was with an artillery detachment near the castle of Karlstejn, a towering stronghold on a high ridge some distance south-west of Prague, in the ring of defensive positions around the capital, while Seton’s contingent was still in southern Bohemia. Some of Gray’s officers were taken prisoner at Bila Hora and were later ransomed by him, and he withdrew to Pilsen. On 16 November Mansfeld was formally released from his obligations in Bohemian service – the Bohemian estates promised to forward pay arrears to him. The old warrior rallied his remaining troops and led them west to the Palatinate, ‘never desisting untill he came within the sight of Heydelbergh, where he was no sooner descried from the Watch-towers and his Drummes were heard to beate but immediately the whole Towne shouted for sudden joy.’ Gray withdrew slowly westward, occupying the town of Elbogen (now Loket) and then Falkenau (now Sokolov), where he resisted Imperial assault until a surrender in April, after which he and his surviving men – some three hundred in number – returned to the Rhineland and joined the garrison of the fortress of Frankenthal, now under threat from Imperial forces.

Mercenaries in Bohemia, the Rhineland, the Low Countries, 1618–1625 II

Scots in Swedish Thirty Years’ War service.

John Seton and his musketeers were still in Bohemia. After occupying the town of Prachatice and the country as far east as Neuhaus, they had been forced back by the advancing Imperial armies to Wittingau (now Trebon) and had been there since September. In July 1621 only two places held out against the Imperial forces: Wittingau and Tabor, where a Captain Remes Romanesco was in command. Seton kept his mixed force of locals, Scots and Germans on a tight rein, something for which he gained favour among the civil population, although in February 1621 he had threatened to pillage the burghers unless they provided him with some funds. That the ordinary inhabitants of Wittingau preferred such a soldier to the kind of marauder they might have found themselves stuck with is indicated by the fact that they warned him of an impending Imperial attack in time to allow him to mount a surprise ambush to thwart it. At the beginning of April he had replied in writing to one invitation to surrender:

My dear sir, I have received from bugleman Antonia Banzio your estimable letter in which you inform me that Tabor has returned to obedience to His Imperial Majesty and request me to do the same. I am unhappy that a place such as Tabor, which so bravely defended itself against your forces, was obliged to surrender, and I may also say that the defenders conducted themselves with valour. It is my wish to conduct myself in a like manner, and since I have promised my king my loyalty unto death, my only course, if I do not wish to deserve the name of liar, is to declare that, as a testimony to my loyalty, I wager my life on the struggle. Awaiting whatever war may bring, I remain, etc.

Seton’s defence was brave but finally futile and at last, on 23 February 1622, he surrendered on terms: the defenders and the people of Wittingau were granted a full pardon and confirmed in their lives and possessions. Seton later found service in the French army. His stand was not the last hurrah of the Bohemian cause: that honour belongs to the town of Kladsko, under the command of Franz Bernhard von Thurn, which resisted until October.

The Spanish army, under Ambrogio Spinola, gained control of almost all the Rhineland during the autumn of 1620, cutting off garrisons loyal to Frederick in Frankenthal, Mannheim and Heidelberg. English troops led by Sir Horace Vere, a thousand men who had crossed from Gravesend in May, formed the core of the defence in the former two fortresses, while a mixed Dutch–German contingent occupied Heidelberg. On 25 October Mansfeld relieved Frankenthal and then crossed the Rhine to winter his troops in Alsace. As was typical of the period, Mansfeld was content to allow his troops to live off the land, by plundering every village and settlement they came upon. Refugees streamed into Strasbourg to escape the pillaging soldiers, bringing with them typhus, which wreaked its own havoc on the displaced peasants. The Imperial forces, under Tilly, meanwhile wintered in the Upper Palatinate until campaigning resumed in the following year. Disturbed by the presence of Spanish troops in the Rhineland and sympathetic to their fellow-Calvinist Frederick, still in their eyes the king of Bohemia, the leaders of the German states of Brunswick and Baden-Durlach came out for his cause and put armies in the field. Frederick himself joined Mansfeld at Germersheim in April, just in time to witness a repulse of an Imperial advance at Mingolsheim. For the rest of the season the Spanish/Imperial forces and the Protestant armies played a game of manoeuvre in the Rhineland, shifting warily across the country, enjoying local victory and temporary advantage. The trend, however, was against success for Mansfeld. When the Baden-Durlach forces were cut off by the Imperialists at Wimpfen, the mercenary commander crossed the Neckar and moved north, trying to outrace Tilly to the Main. At Höchst, a few miles to the west of Frankfurt, the Brunswick army suffered a crushing defeat on 20 June. In September Frederick’s capital, Heidelberg, fell to Tilly’s army, and in November Sir Horace Vere abandoned Mannheim. Frankenthal held out until March 1623. The whole of the Rhineland now lay in Imperial hands.

The truce between the Netherlands and Spain had expired in 1621 and Spinola had renewed his offensive against the rebellious republic. At this time there were two Scottish foot regiments in the Dutch army, a senior one commanded by Sir William Brog and the other by Sir Robert Henderson. Spinola’s first actions were to occupy the province of Jülich, on the Dutch–German frontier, and carry out a surprise attack on the Dutch camp at Emmerich on a Saturday morning, as a result of which Sir William Balfour was taken prisoner for a time and had to be ransomed.

A stir was created in Scotland when it was learned that Archibald Campbell, seventh Earl of Argyll, was recruiting for the Spanish cause – the Privy Council noted the ‘disgust’ of the people, who were decidedly pro-Dutch – and a Spanish galleon was attacked when it anchored in Leith Roads. Argyll gave out that the destination of the twenty companies he sought to raise was Sicily, to fight the Turks, but, as he had been sticking his toe into Spanish affairs for some time, suspicions were not allayed. On a visit to Rome in 1597 he had become an ardent Catholic and had married the daughter of a prominent English Catholic family. In 1618 he expressed the wish to visit Spain, ostensibly for his health but really to gather Spanish gold for his debt-burdened estate. Spain was equally interested in the earl, as his lands in Argyll offered men and an invasion route into Britain. In February 1619 the burgesses of Edinburgh labelled Argyll a traitor. He took service in the Spanish army in the Low Countries, even visiting Madrid in the autumn of 1619, but he saw no fighting and finally changed tack and tried to restore himself to Stuart favour. Spain was also interested in the clan Donald, the traditional enemy of Argyll and his Campbells. A few Donald individuals, such as Sir James Macdonald of Dunnyveg and Ranald Og, a relation of the Keppoch bard Iain Lom, were in the Low Countries under a Spanish flag, and other Highlanders may have been among the contingents of Irish mercenaries, but there was no large-scale recruiting among the clans. Relatively few Scots in fact served in the Habsburg forces in the Low Countries. There were three captains in Brussels in 1619: James Maitland, Lord Lethington; William Carpenter and Robert Hamilton, both of whom had been with Semple at Lier.

The composition of Spinola’s army, as estimated by the Dutch government in August 1624, illustrates the cosmopolitan nature of the forces now contesting across Europe. The Spanish commander had at his disposal 12,000 High Dutch [Germans], 4,000 Spanish and Portuguese, 5,600 Italians, 6,800 Walloons, 2,200 Bourguinions [Burgundians] and 3,000 English, Scots and Irish (probably mostly the latter). With these motley thousands, Spinola initiated in 1622 a siege of Bergen-op-Zoom, an important port and commercial town on the North Brabant coast, where the garrison was under the command of Sir Robert Henderson. The defending troops included English, Scots and Dutch, and it was one of the former who noted: ‘They [the Dutch] mingle and blend the Scottish among them, which are like Beans and Peas among Chaff. These [Scots] are sure men, hardy and resolute, and their example holds up the Dutch.’ Early in the siege, Henderson fell while leading a large sally against the attackers. ‘He stood all the fight in as great danger as any common soldier, still encouraging, directing, and acting with his Pike in his hand. At length he was shot in the thigh.’ Henderson was carried to safety but he died soon afterwards, impressing all who saw him with his bravery. Command of his regiment was passed to his brother, Sir Francis.

As with the siege of Ostend some years before, the assault on Bergen assumed the nature of ‘a publique Academie and Schoole of warre, not only for the Naturalls of the Countrie, but for the English, Scots, French, and Alamines [Germans], who being greedie of militarie honour, resoirted thither in great numbers’. This notion of honour seems to have led men into acts of great bravery, if not foolhardiness. The near-contemporary English historian William Crosse wrote of a typical incident: ‘the English and Scottes being jealous of their honours, and unwilling that any Nation should be more active than themselves, resolved to assault the Spaniard works which they had made . . . and to give them a Camisado the night following. They effected this assault accordingly with their Musket shot and fire-balles, by which they forced the Enemies to forsake their Trenches, after they had lost many men in the fight.’

News of the siege came to Mansfeld and he set off westward to Bergen’s assistance. The mercenary commander’s army was not in very good shape by this time, suffering from hunger and ill-armed, but he made good speed. ‘When the Count departed from Manheim he was sixteene or seventen thousand strong Horse and Foot of all Nations . . . and his Foot were all Musketiers, there being few or no Pikes among them.’ The greater part of Mansfeld’s force was mounted and this, combined with a lack of gear, enabled them to move fast, via Saverne and through ‘the Straits and Fastnesses of Alsatia, the Wildes and Woldes of Loraine’. Among them were the Scots under Sir Andrew Gray’s command. They came through Sedan and crossed the Sambre at Marpont on 27 August and two days later reached the small village of Fleurus, six miles from Namur. The speed of the march had taken the Spanish completely by surprise but they recovered sufficiently to attempt to intercept Mansfeld here. The mercenary army battered its way through and continued towards Bergen, finally rendezvousing with Dutch forces. By now ‘the Mansfelders were not above sixe thousand strong that could ride or stand under their Armes, and those wre for the most part Horse, all or the greatest part of their Foot being either slaine in the battell of Fleurie, or disbanded in their long march out of the Palatinate.’ But Spinola was also enduring heavy losses and the threat of a desperate relief force on its way was enough to make him call off the siege of Bergen.

While Mansfeld stayed with his troops, Sir Andrew Gray crossed to England to seek further assistance from the Stuart monarchy. He alarmed James when he was brought into the royal presence still wearing his customary weapons – sword, dagger and a pair of pistols – but he was appointed a colonel and prepared to lead a force of English mercenaries to rejoin his colleagues in Europe. Before this was to happen, however, Spinola laid siege in 1624 to the town of Breda, where towards the end of the year plague cut a swathe through the inhabitants, reducing the population by a third.

Mansfeld himself crossed the Channel in March 1624 to take command of the new English levies for the war, with the aim of recovering the Palatinate for Frederick and his Stuart spouse. Britain saw very high recruitment for the continent in the latter half of 1624 – including 6,000 for the Low Countries and 12,000 for Mansfeld. In November Alexander Hamilton was appointed as an infantry captain and ordered to lead his men to Dover by Christmas Eve, and presumably other contingents were given similar instructions. Initially the plan was to land the men in France, through which country they would be allowed to pass to join the campaign to recover the Palatinate. At the last moment, however, fearing a counter-invasion of Spanish troops from the Low Countries, the French withdrew permission, and Mansfeld had no choice but to sail north to find a landing at Flushing. As the Dutch were equally unwilling to allow such a large body of undisciplined troops ashore under the control of Mansfeld, a commander they did not fully trust, the fleet of ships, almost one hundred in number, was left swinging at its anchor chains for two weeks at the end of February. The raw levies, described by William Crosse as ‘the dregges of mankind . . . the verie lees of the baser multitude . . . the forlorne braune and skurfe of human societie’, suffered dreadfully from cold, hunger and thirst and began to die in their hundreds. The Dutch provided some food but it was not enough. A few taken for dead and dumped overboard recovered in the cold sea and were able to swim ashore to start a new life. More commonly, corpses were washed up with all the consequent risk of disease. Mansfeld was caught in a terrible dilemma: he could not provide for his troops and equally he could not simply let men ashore for fear of desertion, although a few escaped anyway and joined the enemy. One of the infantry regiments was commanded by Sir Andrew Gray but, as the recruitment had taken place in the south of England, there were probably few Scots among the wretched rank and file, whose fate was as undeserved as it was typical of what could befall the common soldier. At last Mansfeld was able to land his men, but that was not the end of their woes.

The Dutch wanted to employ them in the relief of Breda but after this town fell to the Spanish at the end of May they had no further use for Mansfeld and simply wanted rid of him and his men as fast as possible. Mansfeld led them through Brabant to Cleves on the Dutch–German border, losing men daily through desertion. By this time, the unlucky mercenary commander had only about half of his original strength but he struggled on against tremendous odds, betrayed by those who had undertaken to supply him. Back in Scotland, the Privy Council issued a warrant to Sir James Leslie to travel about the country to levy another 300 foot soldiers to serve under Mansfeld. Leslie’s recruits eventually rendezvoused with Mansfeld’s main body in north-western Germany. At last, at the end of the year, the survivors found some food and rest in the bishopric of Münster, around the town of Dorsten. Before long, though, Mansfeld had to lead them further north, through Lingen, Haselünne on the River Hase, Cloppenburg and at last to Emden, extorting supplies as he went, his men passing through each district like a swarm of locusts. The prospect of having to feed mercenaries led the citizens of Emden to open sluice gates and to flood land in an effort to deter them, but this only angered Mansfeld, who had endured so much in the cause he fought for, and he held the town to ransom for 130,000 reichsthaler, until finally the King of Denmark stepped in to settle matters and provide a degree of security for the bedraggled remnants of the army.

The fate of Sir Andrew Gray remains obscure but he seems to have remained in the Netherlands before returning to Scotland and then, in 1630, going to France. With a band of followers, John Hepburn went north to offer his services to Gustavus Adolphus; he was welcomed and made a colonel in command of a regiment. Hepburn was to prove to Gustavus Adolphus that the royal judgement had not been misplaced, and opened a new chapter in the story of the Scottish soldiers in Europe.

A Faustian Shadow

A kind of Faustian shadow may be discerned in—or imposed on—the fascinating career of Wernher von Braun: A man so possessed of a vision, of an intellectual hunger, that any accommodation may be justified in its pursuit.

—Washington Star editorial, 20 June 1977

The announcement of von Braun’s death produced an outpouring of obituaries, appreciations, and editorials. President Carter released a statement: “To millions of Americans, Wernher von Braun’s name was inextricably linked to our exploration of space and to the creative application of technology. Not just the people of our nation, but all the people of the world have profited from his work. We will continue to profit from his example.” The U.S. media’s tone was similar; obituaries hewed closely to his quasi-official biography and, with a couple of exceptions, celebrated his life as a space visionary who had pursued his boyhood dream and helped put America on the Moon. Most remarkably, his Nazi Party membership was almost never mentioned, and the Mittelwerk and his SS status not at all.

The British stories were a bit more pointed, at least the ones in the London tabloid press, noting the “terror” inflicted on civilians by his V-2s, along with von Braun’s decisive contribution to exploring space. Only the Daily Mail mentioned “the starving slave workers of the rocket factories” in passing. The leading West German papers mirrored the American ones, producing appreciations and hero worship; one limited exception was the left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau, which brought up the Mittelwerk and the moral issues of building long-range missiles but largely as asides. As for East Germany, its official press printed only a one-paragraph item announcing his death. Around 1970 the Communist state had given up its campaign against von Braun, primarily because of a general retreat from the tactic of smearing ex-Nazis in the West, but also presumably because, outside the East Bloc and Dora survivor groups in the West, its campaign had failed to make an impression and had become increasingly irrelevant after the Moon landing.

In Washington his friends and admirers wanted the public celebration of his life denied them by the quick burial. They organized a memorial service at the National Cathedral, an Episcopalian church, on the twenty-second. The West German ambassador brought an official wreath from his government and read scriptural passages; Ernst Stuhlinger, former NASA Administrator James Fletcher, and National Air and Space Museum director Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 astronaut, eulogized him in soaring rhetoric. Quoting the Hebrew prophet Joel Fletcher called von Braun one of the “few men [who] arise in each century who ‘see visions’ and ‘dream dreams’ that give hope and spiritual nourishment to us all….Such men cling to this vision despite all efforts to destroy it.”

Still, Wernher von Braun did not entirely escape posthumous moral critiques—in the U.S. capital’s two major newspapers, of all places. A Washington Star editorial explicitly opened with the Faustian bargain, but after making that pointed statement, the editorial writer waffled. The Washington Post began its editorial with a variant of the old Mort Sahl gibe about aiming for the stars but sometimes hitting London. It followed with: “For most Americans, and others, it has never been possible to hear mention of the name of Wernher von Braun, space pioneer, without thinking, uncomfortably, of Wernher von Braun, rocket builder by appointment to Adolf Hitler.” Friends wrote letters in protest. But the Star printed only one missive supporting von Braun and two attacking him; one correspondent declared him “unambiguously a Nazi and a war criminal.”

The totality of responses to von Braun’s death accurately mirrored his bifurcated reputation. The media, major books, and government institutions continued to offer the heroic Cold War biography. Many, however, mostly on the left, disliked or even hated him but had little on which to base their critique but the official account of his Nazi years and the satires of Sahl and Lehrer. That situation finally began to change, at least in the English-speaking world, with the 1979 publication of French Resistance fighter Jean Michel’s memoir, Dora, in translation. It shed light on the still virtually unknown horrors of the V-2 program.

Michel’s book was less important for its direct effects than for the U.S. government investigation it almost accidentally launched. Early in 1980 a Harvard Law student in his final year, Eli M. Rosenbaum, came upon the work in a Cambridge bookstore. The previous summer he had interned at the new Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of the U.S. Department of Justice, which had been set up by congressional amendment in 1979 to discover and deport former war criminals in the United States. Days later Rosenbaum found another new book, The Rocket Team, by Fred Ordway and an MSFC writer, Mitchell Sharpe, an insider history of the von Braun group that had been under way for years. That book, which had received much more press attention than Michel’s Dora, had a chapter on V-2 production that in hindsight reads like an apologia but at the time offered new information. When Rosenbaum went back to OSI full-time as a lawyer in the fall of 1980, he got permission to pursue the subject, in spite of skepticism from Deputy Director Neal Sher that any of the old Paperclip cases were worth pursuing. What did succeed was the case against Arthur Rudolph, whom Rosenbaum and Sher interrogated in 1982 and 1983, using classified documents from army security files, plus the records of the 1947 Nordhausen trial. These brought to light Rudolph’s early Nazi enthusiasm and his role as the Mittelwerk’s production chief. In the end the former Saturn V project director, worried that he might forfeit his civil service pension if he lost a court battle over his immigration, reluctantly signed a voluntary agreement with OSI to go back to Germany and renounce his U.S. citizenship. He departed with his wife for Hamburg in March 1984. In October the Justice Department issued its press release, provoking front-page stories around the world.

“We’re lucky von Braun isn’t alive,” the OSI investigators had said among themselves, as he might have been able to call the conservative Ronald Reagan White House and have the investigation quashed. (One might equally say that he was lucky not to be alive to endure what would follow.) Not only was Rudolph his good friend, it would have been obvious that the investigation could lead back to him. And indeed it did. The case opened the door to all the damaging information that von Braun and NASA had worked to contain in the 1960s. Investigative journalists armed with the Freedom of Information Act ferreted out new documents and wrote sensational narratives. Among the things that emerged in 1985, as a result of journalist Linda Hunt’s work, were von Braun’s SS and party record, his explanations to the War Department, and the bureaucratic battle over his security reports and immigration in 1947–49. His posthumous reputation was greatly damaged.

In the aftermath the anti–von Braun camp shifted from picturing him as a pure opportunist to picturing him as an opportunistic Nazi war criminal. His defenders too were forced to grapple with these disturbing revelations about his past. Nonetheless many in the latter community still say that “he only wanted to go into space,” obviating the moral compromises he made en route. Driven by a hunger for exploration, adventure, and fame, von Braun certainly was single-minded in his space ambitions, but like Goethe’s Dr. Faust, he made a bargain with the devil to carry out vast engineering projects, rationalizing them as being for the greater good of mankind.

All evidence suggests, however, that he was not even aware that he had made such a bargain until rather late in the war. His conservative nationalist upbringing and inclination toward apolitical opportunism made it easy to work for the Nazi regime, which asked for little at first beyond keeping quiet. Gradually, through seduction and pressure, he was drawn deeper into the system. In the end he had to accept the brutal exploitation of concentration camp laborers, and he had to play his part in administering that exploitation, implicating him in crimes against humanity. However much, like Goethe’s Faust, he divorced himself from personal responsibility, after he toured the Mittelwerk tunnels in late 1943 he could have had no illusions about what that meant for the prisoners. His Gestapo arrest a few months later was the final straw; he finally and belatedly understood that he was “aiding an evil regime.”

Having survived the end of the Third Reich by both cunning and luck, von Braun was fortunate that the United States was happy to take him, motivated by equally amoral considerations of the national good. But the early promise of a technologically superior America proved somewhat illusory for him, as the populace was more interested in demobilizing after World War II. What money there was would go to military missile development, and even that was limited before the Korean War. Despite von Braun’s influential efforts to sell spaceflight in the 1950s, it was not until after Sputnik—that is, after he already had been in the rocket business for a quarter century—that he had any money to build space hardware.

Before then the true foundation of his career had not been space but rather the interest of nation-states in the revolutionary strategic potential of the ballistic missile. What he had to offer was not his space plans but rather his “indisputable genius” for the management of huge military-industrial engineering projects. As a designer of nuts-and-bolts rocket technology, he was no better than many others, but as a manager he had few peers. He had a vision of how to build a giant engineering organization for producing such a radical new technology.

Without him, it is hard to imagine that the German army’s liquid-fuel rocket project would ever have succeeded in producing the V-2. Although the V-2 was a profound military failure, that vehicle paved the way for the intercontinental ballistic missile, which when combined with a nuclear warhead finally lived up to the expectations German Army Ordnance had placed on rocketry. Von Braun’s “baby” went on to influence missile technology in the United States, the USSR, France, Britain, and China, accelerating the arrival of the ICBM and the space launch vehicle by perhaps a decade. Nothing von Braun did in his life was ever as influential as that.

Nonetheless, he still managed to produce three more fundamental contributions as a U.S. immigrant and citizen: making spaceflight a reality to the public, leading the team that launched the first American satellite in 1958, and managing the development of the gigantic launch vehicles that sent humans to the Moon. The Saturns were his masterworks; astonishingly, not one failed catastrophically in flight.

The sum total of his accomplishments makes von Braun the most influential rocket engineer and spaceflight advocate of the twentieth century. Others—above all Tsiolkovsky, Oberth, and Goddard—proved that spaceflight was technically feasible. Goddard went further, developing the world’s first liquid-fuel rocket, but he was a poor engineer and one constitutionally unsuited to leading a larger group. It fell to the second generation of rocket and space enthusiasts—chief among them being von Braun and Korolev—to realize the founders’ vision by serving their governments as engineering managers in the development of ballistic missiles, then by selling those governments on the idea of spaceflight. In terms of firsts, Korolev’s achievements undoubtedly exceeded von Braun’s. His team launched the world’s first ICBM, the first satellite, the first object to escape the Earth, the first object to hit the Moon, and the first man and the first woman in space. But his postwar accomplishments were founded on German technology: by Stalin’s order, he started over in 1945–46 by copying the V-2.

Five hundred years from now humans may remember little of the twentieth century except for the nuclear bomb, industrialized mass murder, the discovery of global warming, the emergence of computer networks, the achievement of powered flight, and the first steps into space. Assuming that we do not ruin the Earth through our environmental impact, actually leaving the cradle of all terrestrial life to establish a foothold in space may, in evolutionary terms, rank among the most important. In those terms, at least, Wernher von Braun deserves to be remembered as one of the seminal engineers and scientists of the twentieth century. His life is, simultaneously, a symbol of the temptations of engineers and scientists in that century and beyond: the temptation to work on weapons of mass destruction in the name of duty to one’s nation, the temptation to work with an evil regime in return for the resources to carry out the research closest to one’s heart. He truly was a twentieth-century Faust.