The article below on the Battle of Carrhae was posted by the University of Chicago. Kindly note that none of the other pictures/illustrations posted below appear in the original University of Chicago posting. The article is of special interest as it provides citations by ancient classical authors such as Plutarch and Dio Cassius.
The Battle of Carrhae was fought in June 53 BC. Caught on the open plain, it was the last fatal blunder in a series that began when Marcus Licinius Crassus garrisoned the towns of western Mesopotamia with a fifth of his army but then, rather than advancing directly to Seleucia or the treasures of Ctesiphon, returned to winter quarters in Syria. Advised by his Armenian ally to invade from the mountains to the north, where the terrain would offer safety from the Parthian cavalry, Crassus insisted on crossing the Euphrates at Zeugma to join the Roman garrisons that had been established the previous season. Even then, his quaestor Gaius Cassius Longinus cautioned that he should advance along the river. Instead, Crassus was deceived and, in pursuit of the Parthian army, drawn into the desert, where the Roman army miserably perished at Carrhae. Cassius, himself, together with five hundred cavalry, managed to escape in the night and make his way to Syria. Crassus died as he retreated north toward the Armenian hills, the Romans and Parthians fighting over his body.
Map displaying the Romano-Parthian borders and the location of the Battle of Carrhae (54 BC) (Picture Source: CAIS website).
He had marched into Parthia with seven legions, says Plutarch, nearly four thousand horsemen and as many light-armed troops. Twenty thousand were said to have died and ten thousand taken prisoner. It was the worst Roman defeat since the disastrous loss to Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC.
The poignancy of that slaughter can be read in Plutarch and Cassius Dio, who provide virtually all that is known of the battle. Against the Roman infantry were arrayed ten thousand Parthian cavalry, either cataphracts, who wore scaled or mail armor from head to thigh and were armed with a heavy lance, or mounted bowmen, trained to shoot even as they retreated (hence the expression “Parthian shot”).
“Now as long as they had hopes that the enemy would exhaust their missiles and desist from battle or fight at close quarters, the Romans held out; but when they perceived that many camels laden with arrows were at hand, from which the Parthians who first encircled them took a fresh supply, then Crassus, seeing no end to this, began to lose heart….Then the Romans halted, supposing that the enemy would come to close quarters with them, since they were so few in number. But the Parthians stationed their mail-clad horsemen in front of the Romans, and then with the rest of their cavalry in loose array rode round them, tearing up the surface of the ground, and raising from the depths great heaps of sand which fell in limitless showers of dust, so that the Romans could neither see clearly nor speak plainly, but, being crowded into a narrow compass and feeling upon one another, were shot, and died no easy nor even speedy death. For, in the agonies of convulsive pain, and writing about the arrows, they would break them off in their wounds, and then in trying to pull out by force the barbed heads which had pierced their veins and sinews, they tore and disfigured themselves the more. Thus many died, and the survivors also were incapacitated for fighting. And when Publius urged them to charge the enemy’s mail-clad horsemen, they showed him that their hands were riveted to their shields and their feet nailed through and through to the ground, so that they were helpless either for flight or for self-defence”