8. A Quest for Military Glory
Military glory was one thing that Crassus lacked, but that his partners in the First Triumvirate had in abundance. Unlike Pompey’s and Caesar’s brilliant military records, Crassus’ only military accomplishment had been to crush Spartacus’ slave uprising. To defeat mere slaves did not count for much in Roman eyes. It gnawed at Crassus, so he decided to invade Parthia, a wealthy kingdom comprised of today’s Iraq and Iran, which he assumed would be a pushover. A decade earlier, Pompey had invaded and easily defeated other kingdoms in the east, so how hard could Parthia be?
Crassus assembled an army of 50,000 men, and in 53 BC, marched off to what he assumed would be an easy conquest. He trusted a local chieftain to guide him. Unbeknownst to Crassus, the guide was in Parthian pay. He took the Romans along an arid route until, hot and thirsty, they reached the town of Carrhae in today’s Turkey. There, they encountered a Parthian force of 9000 horse archers and 1000 armored cataphract heavy cavalry. Although they outnumbered the Parthians five to one, the Romans were demoralized by the rigors of the march and by Crassus’ lackluster leadership.