Rome’s Victories were Significant

So were Rome’s Defeats

Battle of Carrhae (53 B.C.) 

Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean that you’re smart enough to pour sand out of a boot…

Marcus Licinius Crassus might have been the wealthiest man in Rome, but there was one thing that Romans valued far beyond wealth – military fame and success. In that department, he was being outdone by his partners in the First Triumvirate, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Gaius Julius Caesar. Crassus’ only notable victories were over Spartacus – he had only defeated slaves, which made those victories count for less.

Seeking something greater, Crassus secured a governorship over the province of Syria and intended to invade the Parthian Empire to the east, to gain more prestige and riches. The move was deeply unpopular even among the militaristic Romans.

When Crassus entered the Parthian territory, he went straight into the desert, probably hoping to mimic Alexander the Great. Unlike Alexander, he wasn’t as mindful of his water supplies and now found himself on terrain perfectly suited to the cavalry army of his enemy.

Crassus ordered his men to form a square. The Romans went on to get pounded by Parthian horse archers and smashed by their cataphracts. It was as close as any ancient battle got to shooting fish in a battle. According to Plutarch, 20,000 Romans had been killed and another 10,000 captured, while the Parthians only lost a few men. These figures are reasonable. Carrhae was one of the most lopsided battles in antiquity.

Battle of Carrhae

Crassus loved gold, so the Parthians forced his mouth open and poured molten gold into it.


Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.)

Hannibal’s masterpiece was arguably the greatest tactical feat of all time. Unfortunately for the Romans, it would be their worst tactical defeat.

Rome planned to catch Hannibal in open country and destroy him. Unfortunately for the Romans, Hannibal, with his smaller army,  turned their strategy against them.

Gradually giving way in the front at Cannae, Hannibal’s crescent formation began to suck the Romans in. Before they knew it, they were enveloped on both flanks, while the crack Numidian cavalry, which had beaten the inferior Roman cavalry from the field, returned to encircle their enemy.

With the legionaries packed into a giant box, they had no room to move. Most of the men simply had to wait until it was their turn to die. The usually reliable Polybius gives casualty figures of 80,000 with 70,000 dead.

Hannibal wasn’t able to turn his tactical masterpiece into effective strategy, but Cannae was probably the single darkest day in Rome’s history, and indelibly left its stamp on the Roman man’s mind as the worst of his defeats.

Battle of Cannae


Battle of Arausio (105 B.C.)

The Battle of Arausio against the Cimbri and Teutons was one of the worst tactical disasters that the Roman legions faced. According to ancient sources, the casualty count was comparable to that of Cannae.

The actual details of the battle have mostly been lost, but there was evidently dissent between the two Roman generals in the area, the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio and the serving consul, Gnaeus Mallius Maximus, who outranked him. The sources generally blame Caepio as being the more uncooperative of the two.

Caepio launched an attack uncoordinated with Maximus. With the Romans already being outnumbered before the battle even began, this attack was beaten back by the Cimbri. Having defeated one Roman army, the Cimbri advanced against Maximus and annihilated him. It was all the easier, given that Rome’s forces were camped on the Rhone River, leaving them nowhere to retreat. Only a few made it out. One of them was Quintus Sertorious, who would go on to be one of Rome’s greatest generals, said to have learned from the experience.

Arausio produced panic in Rome. Always leery of migrating tribes to the north, The Romans elected their best general, Gaius Marius, as consul, and, violating precedent, would keep doing so until the northern tribes had been completely defeated. In this way, the disaster at Arausio hastened the death of the Roman Republic, as it permitted unusual power to accumulate in the hands of one man.

Battle of Arausio 105 B.C.


Battle of Adrianople (378 A.D.)

This week we remember the anniversary of this battle.

The Roman Empire had experienced struggles in the third and fourth centuries, but it was still the strongest military force in the Western world. The Goths north of the Danube, fleeing the terrifying Huns, begged the Eastern Roman Emperor Valens for protection. He agreed, permitting them to come across the Danube into Roman territory, but they were badly mistreated and rebelled.

A confrontation between the two sides came in 378 when the Romans intercepted a Gothic march on the city of Adrianople. The Western Roman Emperor, Gratian, was moving to join Valens and his army, but jealous of his more popular nephew and believing that victory would be an easy feat, he decided against waiting. He wanted the glory for himself. Historically this always ends badly as it did at Adrianople.

Overeager units, intent on taking glory for themselves, attacked the Gothic infantry without orders. The uncoordinated attack left the Roman formations vulnerable, leaving them prey for the Gothic cavalry when they returned. Pressed on all sides, it was a slaughter. Most estimates put the casualty count in the 15-20,000 range, including Emperor Valens.

While these figures don’t approach the likes of Cannae or Arausio, the Battle of Adrianople was a turning point in history. Though its importance is overstated, it nevertheless showed the decline in Roman military effectiveness. The gap between Rome’s military and its “barbarian” opponents had closed. Instead, Rome was required to accommodate “barbarians” in its territory, and the Empire became more dependent on these “barbarians” for defense. Though these changes were ongoing before Adrianople, the disaster accelerated them, particularly in the Western Empire.


Battle of Adrianople Valens death


Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 A.D.)

In September of 9 AD, three of Rome’s best legions seemingly vanished in Germania without a trace. Very few of the men managed to straggle back across the Rhine into Gaul.

Varus, the governor of the new province of Germania, was led into an ambush by the Germanic chieftain Arminius (who had been trained by Rome), who guided the legionary column into the inhospitable Teutoburg Forest. The dense woods, steep ravines, and marshes meant that the Romans couldn’t deploy in the formations that made them successful and were massacred in detail.

When Augustus heard the news in Rome, he supposedly beat his head against the wall and screamed out “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!” He would do this again and again for years until he died.

All attempts to permanently expand the Empire east of the Rhine were halted. The Romans returned under Germanicus, conducting punitive expeditions, but they abandoned any attempt to turn Germania into a province, preferring instead to keep it as a tributary territory.


Sci-Fi Cartoon-of-the-Day


The Post-Constitutional Republic?

Some observers have described what we’re living in now as a “post-Constitutional America.” We still technically HAVE a Constitution, and we can go to Washington, DC, and look at it under glass at the U.S. National Archives, but it gets ignored by the government so often that it feels as if we might as well not have one at all. It often seems the only people reading the Constitution these days are the ones looking for loopholes.


DRJIM – When I saw this I thought, “Yeah, DRJIM”


  1. I had to look up the Parthian Empire, I’d never heard of it. For almost 500 years it was something to the people who lived there and (I’d imagine) the surrounding area.
    A big deal for 500 years, then 2000 years later someone sitting in a kitchen in western WA state says “who”? Funny how that works….

    • Parthia (Persia), now Iran, has been conquered by the Greeks, the English, swept over by Muslims, interesting history.

    • Parthai gave us the Parting Shot, which is actually the Parthian Shot, which, well, is an arrow as the horse archer rides away.

      Very good horse archers, and had very good heavy cavalry. All done without stirrups.

      • There is some discussion of whether the Parthians were the best cavalry (horse archers to cataphracts – of a sort – early cataphracts) of the era. They were among the very best and in the steppes, they were difficult to beat. They sure beat the hell out of the Legions when they were not well led.

      • Beans,
        I am old school of which I am constantly reminded by SpellCheck and the idiot, in the classical sense, who programmed AutoCorrect to completely change words in my sentence so that the sentence becomes word salad.
        SpellCheck flags words that were in common usage during my early education. The system has been dumbed down to inner city English comprehension levels.
        But I digress.
        The Parthian (please note that SpellCheck just red flagged that word) Shot as you noted has somehow morphed into Parting Shot. I maybe hide-bound, but it irks me when I see Parting Shot used instead of Parhian Shot. I guess I am not progressive enough, but I would wager few people who use Parting Shot understand the term’s origin.
        Another of my idiosyncrasies is that I use of “chomping at the bit” which indicates a horse may be irritated instead of “faunching (also red flagged) at the bit”which means anxious to get going.
        LSP may have similar issues with regarding horse terms used wrongly in language.
        We can probably no longer get off of the Indian side of a horse. That would be racist.

        And stirrups were a game changer for mounted warfare.
        The Parthians were not only great horseman (opps! horse people, persons, ?), but their bows were phenomenal.

        • Note: “I” is supposed to be “the” in the sentence regarding “chomping at the bit”.
          Thank you Auto Correct.
          I don’t proofread as much as I should. Saw
          Parhian instead of Parthian. My mistake.

        • Yep, the power of a composite extreme recurve bow, like what your typical steppes nomad has used since time began, is absolutely amazing.

          And if you want one today, SK bows, from South Korea, make a fabulous fiberglass composite recurve bow. Not as extremely recurve as the historical steppe nomad bow (which, when unstrung, looks nothing like a bow) but the release is so darned fast.

          Much faster than your typical self-bow (short bow, long bow, all just a carved flat stick) and more powerful in a smaller package.

          The Parthians used their composite short bows to great effect. Especially against the Romans. Who, curiously, really never had a strong integral bow or missile unit, often relying on allies and mercenary troops (sometimes from the very people they were fighting – even the Romans made mistakes.)

          Subtle clue. Don’t expect an enemy with long-range weapons not to shoot you while you attempt to close.

          • The Romans used scorpions, but I frankly don’t know when they came into being, but they were not recurve weapons, they were tortion bows more effective in a set-piece defense.

            Did the Parthian horse archers use the thumb ring? I know that you know what I’m asking about Beans, but for others, it allowed them to pull, hold, and release much more effectively. It also allowed them to draw.

            Meteorite iron was also used to strengthen compound bows, though it was not as common as the basic compound horse bow.

            As we know from the experience with the English and their yew bows, you needed a population of archers who went to the butts every week and practiced to build the specific muscles necessary to be effective. They require years of training from youth and it doesn’t work to just hand slave infantry a bow. They had to be free, motivated, and compensated.

            The Parthians wore silk under lamilar and arrows could be removed if they pierced the armor because they didn’t pierce the silk. Access to the Chinese market wasn’t afforded to the Romans until centuries later and even then I don’t think that soldiers wore silk undershirts.

    • I was thinking of the scientists – not the janitor. The only thing more ruthless than DRJIM is Pebbles the Wonder Dog.

      • Me? Ruthless? Don’t know about that….never had to be ruthless, but I suppose I could come up with something.

        These days I’d more than likely be the janitor. But WSF is correct….my broom handle is made from Vibranium…..and it’s hollow.

        No comment on what might be in it.

  2. Larry, if I may impose, (assuming our illustrious host is at WWM) please post your local weather for today, especially for the weather at and after 00Z. Thank you.

    • 73 degrees, partly cloudy. I had to go to Winslow and pick up supplies this morning and had some light rain returning along State Route 87. As an estimate, I’m going to say that it might reach 76. It’s beautiful up here. Not humid, green, and lush, temperatures are pleasant.

      • I asked because NOAA aviation weather forecast for IFR conditions in rain, isolated showers later in the evening for your area. Wind and more wind for the valleys.

        I like to verify the short term forecasts when I can.

        • We had heavy rain showers beginning at about 1400 HRS for fifteen minutes. There were large cumulus build-ups that seem to have mostly subsided into a 30K foot stratus.

  3. The aftermath of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was the introduction of the Lorica Segmentata (armor made of plates laced into hoops. Covered the torso and the shoulders. Though technically better (stopped direct punctures, at least from above or straight on, due to the hoops overlapping each other like shingles on a roof) the Lorica Hamata, a chainmail shirt, was preferred by the soldiers.

    So much of everything was lost in that forest.

    The Democrats, basically from the beginning, have used the Constitution as a weapon towards their opponents, while totally ignoring it as it pertains to them. Just like all laws. Worst drunks I’ve ever seen were Democrat politicians. In my AOA, the local cop school is named after a noted dem political drunk who killed someone in a drunken auto accident. Then there’s the bus plaza that the city named after Corrine Brown (a pure example of stupid politician, who only got her position because the Dems gerrymandered a district for her that runs from Jacksonville, FL to almost Orlando, FL, and is sometimes one block wide, curving around historically white family settlements.)

    Good thing that those aliens didn’t land in Norway, they’d be greeted by “Kvak!”

    • Auxilla wore Lorica Hamata, and when worn over a padded garment (still being worn 1200 years later) it worked well enough. As Beans knows, there were a number of reforms to the legion, the most significant being the Marian reforms (107 BC) wherein a regular standing army was called for rather than untrained levies called for when a military campaign was needed. Prior to Marius, you needed to be Roman middle class to serve, you provided your own kit, and nothing was standardized.

      The Marian Reforms allowed the poor to serve and the generals were responsible for equipping the army. These new professional soldiers were recruited for an enlistment term of 16 years, later to rise to 20 years’ full service and 5 years as evocati under the reforms of Augustus.

      Marius offered retirement benefits in the form of land grants. Members of the headcount who had completed their term of service would be given a pension by their general and a plot of land in a conquered region on which to retire. It kept the locals in line, expanded the Glory of Rome, and offered an incentive to serve

      • Yep. I oversimplified a not-so-simple thing.

        It’s hard to beat European style riveted/welded maille. Still highly useful until basically heavy crossbows or gonnes came into vogue. Still used by French armored troops at the beginning of WWII (chain maille drapes off their helmets to protect the neck and face from spalling rivets.)

        The Marian Reforms were essential at the time. Too much disparity from unit to unit, too complex a supply/resupply situation, and giving the grunts some skin in the game gave the troops a much-needed reason to actually give a darned.

        Something our military/civilian leaders these days need to remember. Take away any real reason to serve and you won’t have anyone serving. Give good incentives during and afterwards, and the troops will fight with more heart.

        Funny, one of the best reforms of Marius was aimed squarely at the logistics segment. Emphasis on multi-use tools, reusable fortification pieces, and just plain standardization of everything from shoes to underclothes to armor to even camp-food. All designed to allow the legion to move at a brisk pace and still carry what was needed without sacrificing one bit.

        • Yes, the reforms brought all of that and a new style of articulated infantry. It created a model for success that is still used in spirit. The use of combined arms (heavy infantry, auxiliary infantry, both light, and heavy artillery, and cavalry quickly followed) and as you point out, reusable fortification pieces and engineering were world-beating. When the army wasn’t fighting, it built roads and aqueducts that are still in evidence and in use 2000+ years later. It is remarkable.

        • One reason to serve used to be, you went because your father and uncles had gone before you and it was more-or-less expected that you would go do your little bit, even if in peacetime, even if you enlisted to be a REMF/Pogue/Fobbit, well at least you went. We’ve lost that sense of responsibility. Nowadays America is at the mall or whatever took the mall’s place. Facebook, maybe, IDK.

  4. Sidenote:
    Mr. Lambert-
    I just finished “Red Mist”. Excellent! Highly recommended page turner!
    You and Ms. Smith have done a terrific job!

    Of note is that I’ve tried to leave a positive comment on Amazon twice and the listing still shows no reviews. Thought you should know.

    • Thanks for your review here. I think that the next book in the series, Loki’s Fire, will. be even better.

  5. So, reading this battle history, does this leave us with a good tactical knowledge base to defeat the Seditionist’s? I believe it does.

    Drjim…Who knew he’s the previously unknown Larson muse.

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