Category Archives: Military History
“I recall the astonishment with which I first noted the unique position of Sparta amongst the states of Hellas, the relatively sparse population, and at the same time the extraordinary power and prestige of the community. I was puzzled to account for the fact. It was only when I came to consider the peculiar institutions of the Spartans that my wonderment ceased.”-Xenophon (Polity of The Lacedaemonians)
Xenophon begins his examination with the topic of child bearing in the Spartan society. It was the aim of Sparta that all children be born healthy, strong, and grow up to be warriors.
The actual training of the Spartan youth was brutal, focusing on cultivating skills such as fighting, stealth, pain tolerance, as well as dancing, singing, and developing loyalty to the Spartan state. With the exception of the first born sons of the ruling houses, the young boys of Sparta entered into this training curriculum, known as Agoge, starting at the age of seven. They would train in the art of fighting for decades, eventually becoming reserve infantry at the age of eighteen, regular foot soldiers at the age of twenty, and eventually full Spartan citizens, with the rights to vote and hold office, at the age of thirty.
The specifics of the Agoge training are not clear. Xenophon does describe in some detail that young boys were not only allowed to fight, but were regularly encouraged to challenge each other to regular bouts.
“So they, the Lacedaemonians, visit penalties on the boy who is detected thieving as being but a sorry bungler in the art. So to steal as many cheeses as possible [off the shrine of Orthia] was a feat to be encouraged; but, at the same moment, others were enjoined to scourge the thief, which would point a moral not obscurely, that by pain endured for a brief season a man may earn the joyous reward of lasting glory.” -Xenophon (Polity of The Lacedaemonians)
This, however, was just another ruse.
Ventidius promised not to attack Jerusalem… that is, unless he received vast amounts of wealth from the king. Antigonus had, in his mind, no choice but to capitulate to Ventidius’ demands.
However, King Antigonus would come up with a ploy of his own; he bribed Silo multiple times. Antigonus hoped to buy time so that the Parthians could come to his assistance, while he kept the Romans at bay.
Like the good spy he was, Channaeus returned to his home after the meeting and quickly sent messengers to inform Pacorus of Ventidius’ fears.
Come early spring 38 BCE, Pacorus, unwilling to let go of Syria, led his forces south along the Euphrates River based on Ventidius’ supposed fears of engaging the enemy on a plain.
One would have thought that perhaps Pacorus carefully prepared a plan of action in such a situation…. but no. Instead, Pacorus and his officers tossed out the combined arms strategy of utilizing both heavy cavalry and horse archers in unison. This had worked many times, so they thought they could take the high ground with little trouble.
This is not to mention those who did make it to the brim were met and repulsed by heavy infantry. And if the heavy infantry did not get them, the slingers would.
These slingers were likely on the left and right side of the Roman infantry, giving them a deadly arc of crossfire. This very well could be the reason as to why we do not hear of the Parthian horse archers partaking in the engagement, since any attempt to rush towards the front would put them in grave danger.
This victory shocked Syria. To make sure the Syrians would never rebel against Rome, Ventidius took Pacorus’ corpse, severed the head and ordered that it be sent throughout all the different cities of Syria.
Why? Well, Antony was jealous of Ventidius and wanted in on the glory.
But instead of the desired fame, Antony inherited a protracted siege that went nowhere, and indeed hurt him in the end. When Antiochus offered peace again, Antony had little choice but to accept the now lowered offer of three hundred talents.
The Next Generation
As Ventidius celebrated his triumph in Rome, Antony seethed in Athens.
Finally, on top of everything else, it may have been this forgotten general, with whom we concern ourselves today, that was responsible for reversing the Parthian tide, for changing the course of Roman History.
We will look at the series of battles now, in an effort to amend the marginal position in the history books that has been designated to poor Ventidus.
Battle of the Cilician Gates
Ventidius’ landing was unexpected. This only goes to show the lack of intelligence gathering on the part of Labienus, head of the Roman-Parthian army. Once the Roman forces were accounted for, Ventidius quickly began to push eastward in a ‘search and destroy’ mission.
Both armies were now face to face… But Ventidius decided to stay put.
Why would Ventidius do this? Well, he was informed from deserters that Labienus was going to flee the camp, come nightfall. Therefore, Ventidius decided that it was better to set up ambushes rather than have an all-out pitch battle, which would result in losing many men and resources during the process.
Battle of Amanus Pass
With Labienus dead, Ventidius was able to secure the province of Cilicia. This did not mean they won; in fact, the mission was far from finished. To complete it, Ventidius devised a plan to trick the Parthians.
“There the sons of Athens set
The stone that freedom stands on yet.”
“With numerous tribes from Asia’s region brought
The sons of Athens on these waters fought;
Erecting, after they had quelled the Mede,
To Artemis this record of the deed.” -Plutarch, from “Themistocles”
The bloody encounter took many lives. The allies especially lost numerous ships. It was then that word reach Themistocles that Leonidas and the soldiers of Thermopylae had fallen. The land pass to Greece was now available to the Persians. Themistocles and Eurybiades ordered a retreat. The Persians continued to advance, the Greeks needed a new strategy.