The consequences of Crassus’ invasion of Mesopotamia in 54–53 BCE were unanticipated and unintended; however, his disastrous failure shocked the Roman world and suddenly established the Parthians as a serious rival to Rome. Moreover, the shame the Romans felt after the Battle of Carrhae was considerable. The battle scarred the Roman psyche and severely damaged the Roman ego. This study synthesizes and investigates what became a vicious and virulent Roman literary tradition of anti-Crassus propaganda, examining how numerous Roman writers over the course of numerous centuries used the dead and disgraced Crassus as a convenient scapegoat to help explain Rome’s failure to dominate the East and subdue the Parthian rival. It demonstrates that these writers ignored the legitimate causes for the First Romano-Parthian War (56 BCE – 1 CE), which Crassus had inherited, and illustrates that the disaster at Carrhae became a popular moralizing lesson about the consequences of greed, impiety, and hubris.
By 128 BCE the Parthians had emerged temporarily as the de facto leading power throughout the Hellenistic Middle East. Their defeat of Demetrius II’s invasion of Mesopotamia in 138 BCE had furthered their heated rivalry with the Seleucids; however, their destruction of Antiochus VII’s invasion of Mesopotamia and Media in 129 BCE finally ended the threat of the Seleucids to their eastern lands. For the first time in their history, the Parthians considered expanding their hegemony over Armenia, Syria, and the regions along the Eastern Mediterranean coast, thus firmly establishing their unrivaled hegemony. Yet any hopes of immediately occupying these regions quickly vanished because of calamities and miscalculations in the early 120s BCE. Although nomadic incursions ravaged the Iranian plateau in the east throughout the 120s BCE, in the west Phraates II’s sudden release of Demetrius to contest the Seleucid throne in Syria before the death of Antiochus became a political debacle that hindered Parthian influence in the region. Despite the arguments of recent scholarship, Phraates’ decision to release Demetrius was shortsighted and haphazard, and Demetrius never served in Syria as a Parthian vassal. This article is a reevaluation of the western policy of the Parthians in the early 120s BCE and the actions of Demetrius during his second reign concerning the Parthians.