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Trajan's Parthian War and the Fourth-Century Perspective*

  • C. S. Lightfoot (a1)

No contemporary account of Trajan's Parthian War survives, nor were any monuments set up to commemorate his exploits in the East in the same way that Trajan's Column in Rome and the trophy at Tropaeum Traiani (Adamclisi) do his Dacian Wars. We rely almost entirely on the excerpts of Dio Cassius' History preserved by Xiphilinus, together with a few fragments of Arrian's Parthica, in order to reconstruct the causes, objectives and strategy of the war. Because of the scant nature of the sources, all three aspects remain the subject of much scholarly discussion and dispute. Here, however, an attempt is made to address the problems raised by Trajan's eastern campaigns from a different perspective. References in fourth-century sources shed light not only on the purpose and execution of the war itself, but also on the way Trajan was perceived in late antiquity as a valuable paradigm for contemporary events and figures.

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1 See Longden, R. P., ‘Notes on the Parthian campaigns of Trajan’, JRS xxi (1931), 115;Guey, J., Essai sur la guerre parthique de Trajan (114117) (1937); and Lepper, F. A., Trajan's Parthian War (1948).

2 Malalas supplies a precise date—7 January (Chron. 11. 272). For discussion of Malalas' dates, see M. I. Henderson, Review of Lepper, F. A., ‘Trajan's Parthian War’, JRS xxxix (1949), 122–4.

3 Julian, it is true, set out from Antioch on his ill- fated Persian campaign on 5 March a.d. 363, but he was heading south towards warmer, drier climes, not north across the Taurus mountains.

4 Mitford, T. B., ‘Cappadocia and Armenia Minor: historical setting of the limes’, ANRW 2/7. 2 (1980), 1196–8.

5 See Bertinelli, M. G. Angeli, ‘I Romani oltre l'Euphrate nel II secolo d.C. (le province di Assiria, di Mesopotamia e di Osroene)’, ANRW 2/9. 1 (1976), 1213 n. 49.

6 So Mitford, op. cit. (n. 4), 1196 n. 65. Those members of the Eastern Frontier of the Roman Empire Colloquium, held in Ankara in September 1988, who participated in the subsequent tour could, I am sure, vouch for the mountainous nature of the terrain. For this route, see French, D. H., ‘New research on the Euphrates frontier: Supplementary notes 1 and 2’, in Mitchell, S. (Ed.), Armies and frontiers in Roman and Byzantine Anatolia (1983), 84–6, fig. 7. 1.

7 For the location of Arsamosata, see Mitchell, S., Asvan Kale, Keban rescue excavations, Eastern Anatolia (1980), 10.

8 See also Dio LXVIII. 18.2.

9 The only comparable evidence on which I have been able to draw is that for Julian's expedition. He covered the journey from Antioch to Hierapolis, a distance of some 220 km, in five days. This indicates to me that he was riding poste-haste along good roads to meet the army, which had already mustered at Hierapolis, rather than that he was marching ‘with a force of some eighty to ninety thousand men’ (Bowersock, G. W., Julian the Apostate (1978), 108). From Hierapolis Julian's progress slowed considerably and he only reached Callinicum (after a detour to Carrhae) on 27 March. This makes a round trip of about 225 km in 16 days, or 14 km per day. It is from this last figure that I have derived my rough estimate of 15 km or just over 9 miles per day for Trajan's rate of march. Since the army had to negotiate formidable mountain ranges in order to reach Satala, I have deliberately made this slower than Casson's private traveller, whom he expected to do about 15 to 20 miles a day on foot ‘in normal terrain, with no toilsome slopes to negotiate’ (Casson, L., Travel in the ancient world (1974), 189).

10 See Henderson, op. cit. (n. 2), 124, contra Mitford, op. cit. (n. 4), 1198.

11 Dep. Antioch 1 April Arr. Satala 21 May c. 760 km 51 days DeP- Satala 23 May Arr. Elegeia 3 June. 180 km—12 days Dep. Armenia (?) 31 July Arr. Nisibis 15 Septi c. 690 km–46 days

12 So Lepper, op. cit. (n. 1), 208.

13 See Angeli Bertinelli, op. cit. (n. 5), 14 and n. 54. Dillemann even proposed an intermediate pass over the Ami Taurus (Dillemann, L., Haute Mésopotamie orientale et pays adjacents (1962), 283 and fig. 36).

14 On the evidence of Themistius (Or. xvi. [250]), Lusius Quietus is also accorded an expedition against the Mardi (see Dillemann, op. cit. (n. 13), 278).

15 Stark, F., Rome on the Euphrates (1966), 209.

16 For the strategic importance of the Roman fortress at Nisibis before a.d. 363, see Lightfoot, C. S., ‘Facts and fiction–the third siege of Nisibis’, Historia 37/1 (1988), 106.

17 Recently, the Ctesiphon campaign has again been attributed to a.d. 115 (Kennedy, D. and Northedge, A., “Ana in the classical sources’, in Northedge, A. et al. , Excavations at ‘Ana (1989), 7).

18 Lepper, op. cit. (n. 1), 44; Henderson, op. cit. (n. 2), 124; and Dillemann, op. cit. (n. 13), 281–2.

19 Teixidor, J., ‘The kingdom of Adiabene and Hatra’, Berytus 17 (1967–8), 46.

20 See Angeli Bertinelli, op. cit. (n. 5), 14–15. The location of Adenystrae is most uncertain. Dillemann (op. cit. (n. 13), 285) rejected an earlier identification of the site with Dunaisir, south-west of Mardin, and instead equated it with Ad Herculem, which Sir Aurel Stein placed at Jaddalah. However, recent excavations of the site at Jaddalah have cast serious doubt on this identification; see Gregory, S. and Kennedy, D., Sir Aurel Stein's limes report (1985), 399. Toynbee, J. M. C., ‘Some problems of Romano-Parthian sculpture at Hatra’, JRS LXII (1972), 106–7 and pl. 5/1–2; see also Chaumont, M.-L., ‘A propos de la chute de Hatra’, Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 27 (1979), 227 f. —an article which I have been unable to consult in Ankara.

21 Dio LXVIII 26. 1; see Taylor, J. G., ‘Travels in Kurdistan, with notices of the sources of the eastern and western Tigris, and ancient ruins in their neighbourhood’, Journ. Royal Geographical Soc. 35 (1865), 56.

22 This episode has for long struck me as strange, since I find it impossible to believe that the Jaghjagha (Çaçak Dere) was navigable in antiquity. The idea that a fleet was constructed at Nisibis in order for it to sail down to the Euphrates is quite fanciful.

23 So Lepper, op. cit. (n. 1), 210.

24 Dio LXVIII. 28. 1; Amm. Marc. xiv. 6. 1; see Longden, op. cit. (n. 1), 14 and below (n. 41).

25 So, for example, Gould, S., ‘The triumphal arch’, in Bauer, P. V. C., Rostovtzeff, M. I. and Bellinger, A. R., The excavations at Dura-Europos, preliminary report of the fourth season of work, October 1930-March 1931 (1933), 61.

26 So Longden, op. cit. (n. 1), 14, n. 2.

27 Forbes, R. J., Studies in ancient technology Vol.1 (1955) 32–5.

28 ibid., 37.

29 For the arch, see Gould, op. cit. (n. 25), 56—65. Fragments of Arrian's Parthica name other sites along the Euphrates which may mark stages in the advance of Trajan's army in A.D. I 16 (Phalga fr. 8, Naarda fr. 10, and Anatha fr. 64 Roos).

30 See Lepper, op. cit. (n. 1), 211.

31 See Fuks, A., ‘Aspects of the Jewish revolt in a.d. 115–117’, JRS LI (1961), 98104.

32 For example, Mommsen, Th., Römische Geschichte. Band 5. Die Provinzen von Caesar bis Diocletian (1894), 400; Angeli Bertinelli, op. cit. (n. 5), 17–20; Mitford, op. cit. (n. 4); Devijver, H., ‘Equestrian officers from the East’, in Freeman, P. and Kennedy, D. (eds.), The defence of the Roman and Byzantine East (1986), 115, 198, 210.

33 Maricq, A, ‘Classica et orientalia 6. La province d'< < Assyrie > > créée par Trajan. A propos de la guerre parthique de Trajan’, Syria 36 (1959), 257–60; see also Millar, F., The Roman Empire and its neighbours (1970), 117.

34 See Maricq, A., ‘Classica et orientalia 5. Res gestae divi Saporis’, Syria 35 (1958), 304–5; E. Kettenhofen, ‘The Persian campaign of Gordion III and the inscription of Šāhpuhr I at the Ka'be-ye Zartošt’, in Mitchell, op. cit. (n. 6), 155; and S. N. C. Lieu, ‘Captives, refugees and exiles: a study of cross-frontier civilian movements and contacts between Rome and Persia from Valerian to Jovian’, in Freeman and Kennedy, op. cit. (n. 32), 477–8. Eastern Mesopotamia was already known to Xenophon, if mistakenly so, by the latter name.(Donner, F. M., ‘Xenophon's Arabia’, Iraq 48 (1986), esp. 3–4, 13).

35 S. Fraenkel, s.v. Adiabene, PW 1 (1893), 360; Longden, op. cit. (n. 1), 13–4; Henderson, op. cit. (n. 2), 125; Magie, D., Roman rule in Asia Minor (1950), 608; Dillemann, op. cit., (n. 13), 288–9; Colledge, M. A. R., The Parthians (1967), 54–5; Chaumont, M.-L., ‘L'Arménie entre Rome et l'lran I. De l'avènement d'Auguste à l'avénement de Dioclétien’, ANRW 2/9. 1 (1976), 140: Luttwak, E. N., The grand strategy of the Roman Empire (1976), 108, no; Eilers, W., ‘Iran and Mesopotamia’ in Yarhsater, E. (ed.), The Cambridge history of Iran 3 (2). The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian periods (1983), 496; and Gregory and Kennedy, op. cit. (n. 20), 118, 140 n. 1.

36 Lepper, op. cit. (n. 1), 112–22, 206; A. D. H. Bivar, ‘The political history of Iran under the Arsacids’, in Yarshater, op. cit. (n. 35), 88.

37 So Lepper, op. cit. (n. 1), 152–3.

38 Maricq, op. cit. (n. 33), 260.

39 For the close relationship between Eutropius, Festus and Ammianus, see Syme, R., Ammianus and the Historia Augusta (1968), 105.

40 Birley, A., The African Emperor Septimius Severus (rev. ed., 1988), 130.

41 Amm. Marc. xxiv. 2. 6–7; see Bowersock, op. cit. (n. 9), 113

42 Compare ILS 418 and 732; see P. von Rohden, s.v. Adiabenicus, PW I (1893), 360.

43 BMCRE vol.3 (1966), 221–2, nos. 1033–40.

44 Maricq, op. cit. (n. 33), 257.

45 Compare … DAC[IA] CAP[TA] with DACIA AUGUST. PROVINCIA S.C. (BMCRE, op. cit. (n. 43), 82–4, nos. 381–93 and 204, nos. 960–3).

46 L. Catilius Severus, consul in a.d. 110 and 120 (ILS 1041). Another inscription (ILS 1338), which mentions the post of procurator Augusti Armeniae Maioris, is attributed to T. Haterius Nepos and dated to the same period. For other evidence for the Roman establishment in Armenia, see Chaumont, op. cit. (n. 35), 138–9; J. Crow, ‘A review of the physical remains of the frontier of Cappadocia’, in Freeman and Kennedy, op. cit. (n. 32), 80–1, with CIL III. 13627a.

47 Cagnat, R., ‘Inscription romaine du Sindjar au nom de Trajan’, Syria 8 (1927), 53 (the inscription is now lost).

48 Pecorella, P. E. and Salvini, M., Tell Barri/Kahat 1, Relazione preliminare sulle campagne 1980 e1981 a Tell Barri/Kahat, nel bacino del Habur (1982), 93: Parmegiani, N., ‘The Eastern Sigillata in Tell Barri/Kahat’, Mesopotamia 22 (1987), 113–28.

49 Killick, A. and Roaf, M., ‘Excavations in Iraq’, Iraq 45/2 (1983), 208; Gawlikowski, M., ‘Bijan in the Euphrates’, Sumer 42 (1985), 16, 2021; A. Invernizzi, ‘Kifrin and the Euphrates limes’, in Freeman and Kennedy, op. cit. (n. 32), 369; and Valtz, E., ‘Kifrin, a fortress of the limes on the Euphrates’, Mesopotamia 22 (1978), 88–9.

50 Oates, D. and J., ‘Ain Sinu: A Roman frontier post in northern Iraq’, Iraq 21 (1959), 217; Oates, D., Studies in the ancient history of northern Iraq (1968), see also Campbell, B., ‘The Roman pottery from She Qubba, North Iraq’, in French, D. H. and Lightfoot, C. S. (eds), The eastern frontier of the Roma Empire (1990), esp. 54–5.

51 Ibrahim, J. K., ‘The excavation of Khirbet Jaddalah 1977–1978’, Sumer 39 (1983), 230, 233.

52 Dio L xviii. 17. 1; 30. 1; see Bowersock, op. cit. (n. 9), 15, 101. For Trajan's portrayal in the Caesares, see Baldwin, B., ‘The Caesares of Julian’, Klio 60 (1978), 461.

53 For Trajan's pre-eminence in fourth-century eyes and his equation with Theodosius, see Syme, R., Emperors and biography. Studies in the Historia Augusta (1971), 91–4, 101–3, and 110–11.

54 See, most recently, Barnes, T. D., ‘Constantine and the Christians of Persia’, JRS LXXV (1985), 130–2. Barnes draws attention to the fact that in his campaigns north of the Danube Constantine ‘was comporting himself like a new Trajan’.

55 Peachin, M., ‘The purpose of FestusBreviarium', Mnemosyne ser. IV, 38/1–2 (1985), 156–8.

56 For events in Armenia after a.d. 363, culminating in the murder of the king, Pap, at Valens' instigation, see Amm. Marc. xxvi. 4.6; XXVII. 12. 1–18; xxx. 1. 1–22.

57 See A. Birley, Marcus Aurelius. A biography (rev. ed., 1987), 128–9, 140.

* The two figures were prepared by Pervin Bilgen at the Institute in Ankara.

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