New Book by Cam Rea on Parthian Military History

Cam Rea (author of “The Rise of Parthia in the East: From the Seleucid Empire to the Arrival of Rome“) has recently published “Leviathan vs. Behemoth: The Roman-Parthian Wars 66 BC-217 AD”:


  • Paperback: 450 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 150042403X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1500424039
  • Available at Amazon

Cam rea-PortraitCam Rea has a BA and MA in Military History. He is a regular contributor to Classical Wisdom Weekly. In addition, he is an ancient history enthusiast and a Teaching Assistant at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

The Roman-Parthian Wars were clashes between eastern and western titans over hegemony, territory and political power. Parthia  was perhaps one of Rome’s greatest military rivals on the battlefield. As Rome pushed militarily and diplomatically eastward during the 90’s BCE, they eventually arrived near the Upper Euphrates to discover that many of the mini-kingdoms were in fact Parthian client states, especially Armenia.

Once Rome officially discovered and understood the sphere of influence Parthia had over its western neighbors, Rome gradually took that model and began to court the eastern kingdoms subject to Parthian influence. However, before they can accomplish this, they must first meet their equals. Around 92 BCE, their first diplomatic meeting took place.

34-Map of Parthian Empire 44 BC to 138 AD[Click to Enlarge] Map of the Parthian Empire in 44 BCE to 138 CE (Picture source: Farrokh, page 155, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-). 

The relationship between both empires started peacefully. As time went on, tensions began to grow over the control of the Near East. While Parthia’s sphere of influence dominated the region, Rome’s political push at Parthia’s client states slowly caused a rift between the two powers that eventually led to war when Crassus invaded Parthia and was obliterated with his Roman forces at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE. After Carrhae, their relations would never be the same, as both sides would continue a tug of war with the kingdoms between their borders, at times directly engaging each other.

Roman generals, like Mark Antony, and many of the emperors, who attempted to conquer Parthia underestimated the enemy multiple times, all in hopes that they could imitate their hero Alexander the Great, only to gain incremental victories and nothing more. The various generals and emperors sought glory and riches but remained ignorant of the people they sought to subjugate. So what was Rome’s overall grand strategy when dealing with Parthia? The answer is, there was none.

Parth-Savar1 Parthian armored knight (Picture source: Peter Wilcox & Angus McBride, Osprey Publishing).

There was no Roman strategy in how to subjugate the Parthians, and if there was, those emperors who led campaigns had not the means nor the ability to implement their goals fully, as far as totally subjugating Parthia. Another way to look at it is that the Romans had a grand strategy when it came to conquest, but had none for governing after conquest, at least with Parthia.

However, even this became problematic for the Roman emperors. While they had the ability to trample Mesopotamia under, they could not go further than their ability allowed. Unrest in the newly conquered region is one of many reasons why Rome could not hold the region effectively, plague was another, not to mention that overstretched legions and insufficient resources, along with the cost of war limited their ability to penetrate Parthia farther. Roman emperors were smart enough to know that they could not afford to use their legions on a grand scale, for they could not afford to lose them. In this sense, from the campaigns discussed in this book, the Romans, while not as limited as the Parthians, were in many ways just as limited when it came to military campaigning like the Parthians. The only difference is that Rome could go on a bit longer.

marcantony2Marc Antony (83-30 BC) Roman statesman and military leader. His expedition into ancient Praaspa (near modern Tabriz) ended in disaster in 36 BC mainly at the hands of Iranian Parthian armored knights and horse-archers (Shiva-tir). In one of the engagements, the Mede infantry destroyed 10,000 Roman legionnaires. Marc Antony and his surviving troops fled into Syria and from there to Egypt where Ptolemid Queen Cleopatra provided them sanctuary and shelter  (For more details consult Farrokh, 2007, p.144-146).

The same goes for the Parthian kings. Even though the Euphrates represented the border between the two powers in theory, it was just an illusion. Parthian kings, especially during the 50-30’s BCE, took advantage of this and expanded their influence to the south in Judea and to the west into Anatolia before retreating into their dominion. They, unlike Rome, were not centralized and had no standing army.

The Parthian grand strategy was defensive. Unlike Rome, where the best defense is an offense, Parthia had no such ability, at least over the long term. As mentioned, Parthia had no standing army, but a militia, and relied primarily on the satraps to raise forces when in need. Parthia, unlike Rome, was not a centralized state, and if they committed the bulk of their forces to the west, they ran the risk of rebellions rising within Parthia or foreign invasion. Furthermore, they did not have the means to supply the men day in and day out. The militia had homes and families to attend. Therefore, military service was temporary and protracted military campaigns were out of the question.

Horse Arhers at CarrhaeParthian Shiva-tir horse archers attack Roman formations at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE (Picture source: Antony Karasulas & Angus McBride, Osprey Publishing).

In the end, with Parthia gone, Rome’s war in the east continued. A new power would emerge due to the vacuum Rome created. This power, unlike Parthia, was a centralized, leviathanic reflection of Rome. They were the Sassanids.

Safavid helmet-Topkapi-BBC-Persian

Safavid Military Items housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum

The Topkapi Palace Museum of Istanbul in Turkey is one of the world’s most important sites for the study of world history and civilization, on par with Museums such as the Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia), The British Museum (London, England), The Louvre (Paris, France), Iran Bastan Museum موزه ایران باستان (Tehran, Iran), Altes Museum (Berlin, Germany), Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome, Italy) and the Egyptian Museum المتحف المصري (Cairo, Egypt).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Enderûn Library at the Topkapi palace Museum (Source: Public Domain). The Topkapi is one of the most important museums of Persianate or Turco-Iranian civilization.’s previous posting on “Giosofat Barbaro’s Reference to the Identity of Shah Ismail and the Safavids” resulted in communication highlighting the housing of significant Safavid items in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum. The source of this information is an article penned in the BBC on December 6, 2014 by Pejman Akbarzadeh entitled “ردپای فرهنگ ایران در موزه‌های استانبول” [The Footprint of Iranian Culture in Istanbul’s Museums]. Below are two Safavid military items (a helmet and a military standard) housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum.

Safavid helmet-Topkapi-BBC-PersianSafavid helmet with mail (کلاهخود از دوران صفویه – موزه کاخ توپکاپی در استانبول), most likely captured during the wars between the Safavid and Ottoman empires; Topkapi Museum (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).

Safavid Standard-TopkapiSafavid Battle Standard captured in the Battle of Chaldiran (August, 23, 1514) (درفش ارتش ایران در جنگ چالدران – موزه کاخ توپکاپی) (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).




Giosofat Barbaro’s Reference to the Identity of Shah Ismail and the Safavids

Shah Ismail I (r. 1502-1524) led the armies of Iran against the numerically superior and firearms equipped invading horses of Sultan “Yavuz” (the Grim) Selim at the Battle of Chaldiran on August 23, 1514.  The Italian nobleman and ambassador to Persia, Giosofat Barbaro, has provided a description of Shah Ismail’s troops in an 1873 publication based on his travels:

“…the flower of the Persian people, as the kings of Persia are not accustomed to give pay on the occasion of war, but to a standing force…Thus it is the Persian gentlemen, to be well brought up, pay great attention to horsemanship, and when necessity calls, go willingly to war…” (Josafa Barbaro (1873). Travels to Tana and Persia. London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society, p.58).

In the disastrous aftermath of the ensuing Ottoman-Safavid wars, much of Iran’s Azarbaijan province (including its provincial capital Tabriz), Armenia (known as the Iravan Khanate in Medieval Iranian sources) and the Caucasus fell under the occupation of the Ottoman Turks. What is clear is that, despite the prevalence Turkic speech among Shah Ismail’s Safavid court and the Turkmen Qizilbash warriors of his army, the Europeans (1) recognized the Safavids and their troops as belonging to the Iranian realm and (2) that the Ottomans were the mortal enemies of the Safavids.

ShahIsmail-RexPersarum[Click to Enlarge] Shah Ismail as depicted by a European painter – the painting is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Italy. Note the Latin terms “Rex Persareum” [Monarch of Persia] which makes clear that Shah Ismail was the king of Safavid Persia or Iran. Despite being hopelessly outmatched by the Ottoman armies in manpower and firerams, Ismail stood his ground in Chaldiran on August 23, 1514. Despite their victory, the Ottoman Turks, who had also suffered heavy losses,  failed to conquer Iran.

Despite the defeat at Chaldiran, the Ottomans failed to conquer Iran. The Iranian army, though battered, lived to fight another day. Important military reforms which had begun at the time of Shah Tahmasp I (r. 1524-1576) reached their apogee at the time of Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629), especially in the latter’s success in finally implementing the full integration of firearms into the Safavid battle order. The latter task was assisted by the English brothers, Anthony and Robert Shereley.

Vincenzo D’Alessandri a European visitor to Iran arriving in 1571, reported that:

Persians are tall and strong… commonly use swords, lances and guns on the battlefield…Persian Musketeers use their muskets so adeptly…they will draw the sword at times of necessity…muskets are slung to the back as to not interfere with the usage of bows and swords…their horses are very well trained and they [the Iranians] have no need to import horses…” [As cited in Amiri, M. (1970). Safarnameye Venezian dar Iran [The Travelogues of the Venetians in Persia]. Tehran: Entesharat-e Kharazmi, pp.448-449].

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 8.40.09 PM[Click to Enlarge] Son and successor of Shah Ismail, Shah Tahmasp (r.1524-1576). Note from the partially visible lettering that Tahmasp is also clearly identified as king of Persia. Ismail Commissioned a copy of the Iranian epic Shahname for his son (Savory, R. M. (1994). Land of the Lion and the Sun, in Lewis, B. (ed.), The World of Islam: Faith, People and Culture, Thames & Hudson, pp.245-271, as cited from pp.252) which was completed after Ismail’s death.

Despite fielding smaller numbers of troops, the reformed Safavid armies of Shah Abbas I defeated the Ottoman Turks and liberated Tabriz from Turkish occupation on October 21, 1603 (after 20 days of fighting).

Tabriz-Cut_off_Ottoman_HeadsRare drawing by a European traveler who witnessed the aftermath of the liberation of Tabriz by Shah Abbas I on October 21, 1603. Local Azari citizens welcomed the Iranian Safavid army as liberators and took harsh reprisals against the defeated Ottoman Turks who had been occupying their city. Many unfortunate Turks fell into the hands of Tabriz’s citizens and were decapitated (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilizaiton to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p.63).

Note that the sources cited in this article thus far are clear that the Safavids are Iranians; they are consistently refered to as “Persians” in reference to their historical and cultural links to the wider Iranian mileau. Therefore, the fact that many of the Iranian Azarbaijanis had become Turcophone was simply another facet of their Iranian identity – Iranians are not limited to Persian-speakers only, as Iranian culture is multifaceted and characterized by diversity and synthesis within an Iranian cultural framework.

Note the observations of a European traveler to Iran named Antonio Tenreiro in 1525 and his descriptions of the inhabitants of the city of Tabriz:

This city [Tabriz] is inhabited by Persians and some Turkomans, white people, and beautiful of face and person” [Ronald Bishop Smith (1970), The first age of the Portuguese embassies, navigations and peregrinations in Persia (1507-1524), Decatur Press, pp. 85-86.].

Girl from ArdabilA girl from modern-day Ardabil (known as Abadan Piruz or Shahram Peruz in Sassanian times). There are numeorus historical references to a Pahlavi-based language in Iranian Azarbaijan, notably the Fahlaviyat, Tabrizi and and Azariyeh before the linguistic Turkification of the province.  Examples include: (1) The Ottoman Turkish traveler Evliya Chelebi reports as late as 17th century that the majority of the women in [the city of] Maragheh conversed in Pahlavi or Middle Persian (2) Sadeqi has noted that “Pahlavi, Dari, Farsi and Dehqani” among the Iranian languages prevalent in Nakhchevan khanate in the Caucasus (Sadeqi, A.A. (2003). The conflict between Persian and Turkish in Arran and Shirvan. Iranian Journal of Linguistics, 18 (1), pp 1-12) (3) Ganjakets’i stating that Maragheh (Ganjakets’i, Kirakos (1986, Tr. with preface by R. Bedrosian), Kirakos Ganjakets’i’s History of the Armenians. New York: Sources of the Armenian Tradition, pp.197): “…was densely populated with Persians and a small number of Christians.”

It should be noted that the Turkoman tribes cited above were religious followers of the Safavid dynasty (themselves originally of the Iranian pedigree but progressively Turkicized linguistically, hence of the Persianate civilizational realm). These had migrated from the Anatolian regions and became the military backbone of the early Safavid dynasty. It was these same Turcomens who had stood up with Shah Ismail against the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514.

pic61-shahabbas[Click to enlarge] Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) as depicted in a European copper engraving made by Dominicus Custos citing him as“Schach Abas Persarum Rex” or “Shah Abbas the Great monarch of Persia”. Note how Custos makes a particular emphasis on linking Shah Abbas to the “Mnemona Cyrus” (the Memory of Cyrus the Great of Persia). His victories over the Ottomans weakened them against the Europeans to the West, and especially in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

It is clear that the Ottoman Turks had intended to hold Tabriz and all of Azarbaijan under permanent occupation. In a letter written by Shah Abbas to Jalal e Din Mohammad Akbar (the powerful emperor of India and contemporary of Shah Abbas, whom the Iranian king always addressed as father) after the liberation of Tabriz, he had noted that the Ottomans in Tabriz had:

“…200 cannon, 5000 musketeers…supplies lasting for ten years and much equipment for the holding of fortresses…” [Falsafi, N. (1965). Zendeganiye Shah Abbas Avval [The Life and Times of Shah Abbas the First] (6 Volumes). Tehran University, Volume IV, pp.22-23.].


Second Farrokh Book translated by Taghe Bostan Publishers into Persian

Kaveh Farrokh’s second text, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایههای صحرا (April 2007; 320 pages; ISBN: 9781846031083; Osprey Publishing) is the first text to specifically outline the military history of ancient Iran from the bronze age to the end of the Sassanian era. This book was recently translated for the second time into Persian by Taghe Bostan publishing which is affiliated with The University of Kermanshah:

Shadows in the Desert-Taghe Bostan Publishers-3

Farrokh’s second text translated into Persian for the second time. This version was translated by Bahram Khozai and published in Iran by the -طاق بستان- Taghe-Bastan company on January 21, 2012 (01 بهمن، 1390).

The second translation of the book into Persian cited above is independent of the first Persian translation by Shahrbanu Saremi (entitled -سایههایی در بیابان: ایران باستان در زمان جنگ-) which appeared through  Qoqnoos Publishers in 2011.


Shadows in the Desert Ancient Persia at War – The first Persian translation by Qoqnoos Publishers with the English to Persian translation having been done by Shahrbanu Saremi (LEFT),  The original publication by Osprey Publishing (CENTER) the Farrokh text  translated  into Russian (consult the Russian EXMO Publishers website) (RIGHT).

The Tehran Times on July 4, 2011 as well as The Times of Iran (July 4, 2011) announced the first translation of Farrokh’s book into Persian by Qoqnoos Publishers with the final report on this made by the official Mehr News Agency of Iran on September, 24, 2011 (see also earlier report by Mehr News in Persian -ناگفته‌هایی از قدرت سپاهیان ایران باستان در «سایه‌های صحرا» بازگو شد-). This has also been reported in Press TVKhabar Farsi,  Balatarin and the official Iran Book News Association (IBNA-سايه‌هاي صحرا؛ ايران باستان در جنگ منتشر شد -) on September 28, 2011.

Frye and Farrokh
Meeting his mentors: Farrokh greets the late Professor Emeritus Richard Nelson Frye of Harvard University in march 2008 (shaking hands with Farrokh) and world-renowned Iranologist, Dr. Farhang Mehr (at center), winner of the 2010 Merit and Scholarship award (photo from Persian American Society,March 1, 2008).  As noted by Mafie, Professor Frye of Harvard University wrote the foreword of Farrokh’s text stating that “…Dr. Kaveh Farrokh has given us the Persian side of the picture as opposed to the Greek and Roman viewpoint …it is refreshing to see the other perspective, and Dr. Farrokh sheds light on many Persian institutions in this history…” (consult Mafie, 2010, p.2).

Below are a number of reviews of the text:

The Persian translation has been very well-received in Iran as indicated by the November 2011 newspaper clip below:

Page 52 of hashahri javan vol 335-2011
 [CLICK TO ENLARGE] Page 52 of Hamshahri newspaper, volume 335, November 17, 2011. The article in Persian by Ehsan Rezai reads “History as narrated by the Sword”.
Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War has been awarded with the Persian Golden Lioness Award by the WAALM Society in London as the “Best History Book of 2008” on October 31st 2008. This was reported by major media outlets such as the BBC, Iran’s equivalent of the New York Times, The Kayhan Newspaper (the Iranian equivalent of the New York Times) and the widely The Farrokh text was also nominated as one of three finalists for the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Awards by the Independent Book Publisher’s Association.

Excavations uncover Large Ancient gate in 2500 Year Old City of Persepolis in Iran

The report below by April Holloway regarding the excavation of a large ancient gate at Persepolis appeared in the Ancient Origins outlet (November 17, 2014). Reports of these findings also appeared in Mehr News.



A view of the 2500-year old city-palace of Persepolis in Iran (Ancient origins & Ivar Husevåg Døskeland)

Excavations at Persepolis, a magnificent palace complex in Iran founded by Darius the Great around 518 BC, have uncovered a great ancient gate in Tale-Ajori, within the Firouzi Complex.  Even older than Persepolis itself, Tale-Ajori lies 3,500 meters outside the city and is of great significance for understanding the Achaemenid Empire. The glazed bricks of the site reveal much about the mythology of the era, while the discovery of the new gate may shed new light on the role Tale-Ajori played within this ancient landscape.

According to Mehr News, the finding of the gate was made by a joint Iranian and Italian expedition team, who carried out excavations over the last two months in the area of the Firouzi Complex, which they believe was part of a city relevant to the royal seat in Persepolis. Tole-Ajori itself is an ovoid mound 80 meters (260 feet) long and 60 meters (200 feet) wide, and is believed to be the site of a single large building, although its original function is still unknown.


General sketch map of the structural architectural of Tale-Ajori (meaning ‘Bricks Hill’) (P. Callieri & S. Gondet; Ancient origins)

 Archaeologist Alireza Askari Chavardi told Mehr News:

The remains of Achaemenid ascendancy near Firouzi village has only gradually attracted interests of the archaeologists who studied the areas surrounding the royal seat to locate the Royal Sacred Place in the broader limits of the city for nearly 100 years”.

Through the combination of excavations and geophysical surveys, the research team has been trying to piece together the spatial layout across the 10 hectares of archaeological sites near Tale-Ajori, as well as the conceptual links between the royal construction and the surrounding buildings.

As noted further by Chavardi:

One of the most important sections of the region immediately leading to Persepolis is the north-western part of the royal seat which is also called Firouzi Complex, on where the studies conducted by archaeological expeditions have been focused, is where now lies the relics of a famous monument called Tale-Ajori


A section excavated at Tale-Ajori (meaning ‘Bricks Hill’). (; Ancient Origins)

Chavardi explains:

The most important findings of this season of excavations are 30 pieces of glazed bricks adorned with images of winged animals, incorporating mythic beasts of Elamite and Achaemenid eras in the tradition not unlike traditions of Shusha and Mesopotamia in south-western Iran…The outer parts and the great hall of the gate of this section of Parseh are decorated with colorfully glazed bricks, and thousands of pieces of bricks

Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great in 521 BC, and was the dynasty’s political and religious capital up to the decline of the empire in 331 BC.  It sits within a large urban landscape of Achaemenid palaces, monuments, and buildings extending across 600 hectares.  The wealth of the Persian empire was evident in all aspects of its construction. The splendor of Persepolis, however, was short-lived, as the palaces were looted and burned by Alexander in 331-330 B.C.


Reconstruction of the gardens and outside of the Palace of Darius I of Persia in Persepolis (Public Domain & Ancient origins).

Christopher I. Beckwith: Empires of the Silk Road

Readers are introduced to Professor Christopher I. Beckwith’s text: “Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present” (available on


  • Author: Christopher I. Beckwith
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Date: Reprinted in 2011
  • ISBN-10: 0691150346; ISBN-13: 978-0691150345

This book is recommended reading for Kaveh Farrokh’s Fall 2014 course “The Silk Route Origins and History“. Readers interested in the history of the Silk Route are also referred to the “Soghdian-Turkish Relations Symposium” (21-23 November, 2014) being held in Istanbul, Turkey (for brochure of conference, list of participants, etc., kindly click on images below to enlarge): Sogut_Program


Christopher I. Beckwith’s text provides a comprehensive history of Central Eurasia from antiquity to the current era. This is an excellent text that provides a critical analysis of the Empires of the Silk Road by analyzing the true origins and history of this critical region of Eurasia.


Statue of a foreigner holding a wineskin, Tang Dynasty (618-907) (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith examines the history of the great and forgotten Central Eurasian empires, notably those of the Iranic peoples such as the Scythians, the Hsiang-Nou peoples (e.g. Attila the Hun, Turks, Mongols, etc.) and their interaction with China, Tibet and Persia.


One of the critical land bridges of the Silk Route: the Pamir Mountains which as a 2-way gigantic connector between the civilizations of the east and West (Photo source: Public Domain).

Beckwith outlines the scientific, artistic and economic impacts of Central Asia upon world civilization. Beckwith also tabulates the history of the Indo-European migrations out of Central Eurasia, and their admixture with several settled peoples, resulting in the great (Indo-European) civilizations of India, Persia, Greece and Rome. The impact of these peoples upon China is also examined.


Italian pottery of the 1450s influenced by Chinese ceramic arts; housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris (Photo source: Public Domain).

This is a book that has been long overdue: Empires of the Silk Road places Central Eurasia within the major framework of world history and civilization. It is perhaps this quote by Beckwith which demonstrates his acumen on the subject:

The dynamic, restless Proto-Indo-Europeans whose culture was born there [Eurasia] migrated across and discovered the Old World, mixing with the local peoples and founding the Classical civilizations of the Greeks and Romans, Iranians, Indians, and ChineseCentral Eurasians - not the Egyptians, Sumerians, and so on- are our ancestors. Central Eurasia is our homeland, the place where our civilization started” (2009, p.319).


Second century CE Kushan ceramic vase from Begram with a “Western” motif: a Greco-Roman gladiator (Photo source: Public Domain). The Silk Route challenges the fallacy of a so-called “Clash of Civilizations” – to the contrary, East and West have had extensive adaptive contacts since the dawn of history.