Crassus’ treacherous invasion of Parthia during the reign of Artavazd II – King of Armenia

When king Tigranes died of old age in 55 BC, his son Artavasdes II took over the Armenian throne.

Ten years earlier his older brother Tigranes the younger had been deported to Rome by Pompey, and never heard of again. His betrayal of his father and his double dealings with Parthia and Rome had upset Pompey.

For ten years their father Tigranes the great had ruled in peace, after having peacefully surrendered to Pompey, who had a far greater admiration for the aged King than for his treacherous son. He had been allowed to rule Armenia after giving up his foreign conquests.

King Artavasdes II inherited a peaceful Armenia until early on in his reign, when Pompey’s greedy co-consul, Crassus, decided to earn glory and riches by attacking Parthia.

The Parthian king Orodes II heard about this renegade Roman consul preparing for war despite their past agreement with Pompey, and warned him that he pull back and leave Parthia alone.

As Crassus mustered his armies in Syria, King Artavasdes approached him and offered military assistance. He also suggested that he invade Parthia over Armenia, as the rough terrain would be unsuitable for the heavy Parthian cavalry.

Crassus rejected the wise offer. While Crassus crossed the Euphrates into Mesopotamia, Orodes II invaded Armenia and offered an alliance by marrying his son Pacorus to King Artavasdes’ sister.

Meanwhile the Parthian general Surena met the Roman army on the arid plains near Carrhae and practically annihilated them. This was the largest Roman defeat in history after their defeat by Hannibal at Cannae and placed Parthia in a position to seriously reckon with.

There are reports that when Crassus was captured, they poured molten gold down his throat, and that later his severed head was taken to Armenia and presented to king Orodes and Artavasdes during the wedding ceremonies, and that the head was used as a prop during a theatrical play of the Greek tragedy Bacchus by Euripides.

This bronze coin (posted below) is probably the first coin Artavasdes minted around this same time, because he used the image of his father Tigranes on one side, and his own name appears on the reverse. It is probably the only such coin in existence.

After the Carrhae incident he minted more coins using his own image, some of which are extremely rare and valuable. He ruled peacefully for almost two decades until Mark Antony showed up and wrought havoc in the region but that’s the subject of another story.

by Joseph Sarkissian

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