The Annals by Tacitus - book XVThe Annals

By Tacitus

Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb


A.D. 62-65

Meanwhile, the Parthian king, Vologeses, when he heard of Corbulo’s
achievements and of a foreign prince, Tigranes, having been set over
Armenia, though he longed at the same time to avenge the majesty of
the Arsacids, which had been insulted by the expulsion of his brother
Tiridates, was, on the other hand, drawn to different thoughts as
he reflected on the greatness of Rome, and felt reverence for a hitherto
unbroken treaty. Naturally irresolute, he was now hampered by a revolt
of the Hyrcanians, a powerful tribe, and by several wars arising out
of it. Suddenly, as he was wavering, fresh and further tidings of
disgrace goaded him to action. Tigranes, quitting Armenia, had ravaged
the Adiabeni, a people on its border, too extensively and continuously
for mere plundering raids. The chief men of the tribes were indignant
at having fallen into such contempt that they were victims to the
inroads, not indeed of a Roman general, but of a daring hostage, who
for so many years had been numbered among slaves. Their anger was
inflamed by Monobazus, who ruled the Adiabeni, and repeatedly asked
what protection he was to seek and from what quarter- “Already,” he
said, “Armenia has been given up, and its borders are being wrested
from us, and unless the Parthians help us, we shall find that subjection
to Rome is lighter for those who surrender than for the conquered.”
Tiridates too, exile as he was from his kingdom, by his silence or
very moderate complaints made the deeper impression. “It is not,”
he urged, “by weak inaction that great empires are held together;
there must be the struggle of brave men in arms; might is right with
those who are at the summit of power. And though it is the glory of
a private house to keep its own, it is the glory of a king to fight
for the possessions of others.”

Moved by these considerations Vologeses called a council, placed Tiridates
by his side, and began to speak as follows: “This man before you,
born from the same father as myself, having waived in my favour, on
the ground of age, the highest title of all, was established by me
in the possession of Armenia, which is accounted the third grade of
power. As for Media, Pacorus was already in possession of it. And
I thought to myself that I had duly arranged our family and home so
as to guard against the old feuds and rivalries of brothers. The Romans
thwart me, and though they have never with success to themselves disturbed
the peace between us, they are now again breaking it to their own
destruction. I will not attempt to deny one thing. It was by just
dealing rather than by bloodshed, by having a good cause rather than
by arms, that I had wished to retain what my ancestors had won. If
I have sinned through irresolution, my valour shall make amends for
it. Assuredly your strength and renown are at their height, and you
have in addition the repute of obedience, which the greatest of mortals
must not despise, and which the gods highly esteem.”

As he spoke, he encircled Tiridates’ brow with a diadem, and to Moneses,
a noble, he entrusted a highly efficient body of cavalry, which was
the king’s customary escort, giving him also some auxiliaries from
the Adiabeni, and orders that Tigranes was to be driven out of Armenia.
He would himself abandon his feud with the Hyrcanians, and raise his
own national force in all its warlike strength by way of menace to
the Roman provinces.

When Corbulo had heard all this from messengers he could trust, he
sent two legions under Verulanus Severus and Vettius Bolanus to the
support of Tigranes, with secret instructions that they were to conduct
all their operations with deliberation rather than despatch, as he
would prefer to sustain rather than to make war. And indeed he had
written to the emperor that a general was wanted specially for the
defence of Armenia, and that Syria, threatened as it was by Vologeses,
was in yet more imminent peril. Meanwhile he posted his remaining
legions on the bank of the Euphrates, armed a hastily collected force
of provincials, and occupied with troops the enemy’s approaches. And
as the country was deficient in water, he established forts to guard
the wells, and concealed some of the streams with heaps of sand.

While Corbulo was thus preparing for the defence of Syria, Moneses
rapidly pushed on his forces to anticipate the rumour of his advance,
but he did not any the more find Tigranes unaware of or unprepared
for his movement. He had, in fact, occupied Tigranocerta, a city strong
from the multitude of its defenders and the vastness of its fortifications.
In addition, the river Nicephorius, the breadth of which is far from
contemptible, circled a portion of its walls, and a wide fosse was
drawn where they distrusted the protection of the stream. There were
some soldiers too, and supplies previously provided. In the conveyance
of these a few men had hurried on too eagerly, and, having been surprised
by a sudden attack from the enemy, had inspired their comrades with
rage rather than fear. But the Parthian has not the daring in close
combat needed for a successful siege. His thin showers of arrows do
not alarm men within walls, and only disappoint himself. The Adiabeni,
when they began to advance their scaling ladders and engines, were
easily driven back, and then cut down by a sally of our men.

Corbulo, however, notwithstanding his successes thought he must use
his good fortune with moderation, and sent Vologeses a message of
remonstrance against the violence done to a Roman province, and the
blockade of an allied and friendly king and of Roman cohorts. “He
had better give up the siege, or he, Corbulo too would encamp in his
territory, as on hostile ground.” Casperius, a centurion selected
for this mission, had an interview with the king at the town Nisibis,
thirty-seven miles distant from Tigranocerta, and with fearless spirit
announced his message. With Vologeses it was an old and deep conviction
that he should shun the arms of Rome. Nor was the present going smoothly
with him. The seige was a failure; Tigranes was safe with his troops
and supplies; those who had undertaken the storming of the place had
been routed; legions had been sent into Armenia, and other legions
were ready to rush to the attack on behalf of Syria, while his own
cavalry was crippled by want of food. A host of locusts, suddenly
appearing, had devoured every blade of grass and every leaf. And so,
hiding his fear and presenting a more conciliatory attitude, he replied
that he would send envoys to the Roman emperor for the possession
of Armenia and the conclusion of a lasting peace. He ordered Moneses
to leave Tigranocerta, while he himself retired.
The Annals by Tacitus