Open main menu

Antony's Parthian War or the Roman–Parthian War of 40–33 BC was a major conflict between the Roman Republic, represented in the East by the triumvir Mark Antony, and the Parthian Empire.[5]

Mark Antony's campaigns against Parthia
Part of the Roman–Parthian Wars
Date40–33 BC
Result Parthian victory[1], ended by formal peace in 20 BC
Roman Republic and vassals:
Parthian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Mark Antony
Publius Ventidius Bassus
Artavasdes II of Armenia
Orodes (40–38 BC)
Phraates (38–33 BC)
Artavasdes I of Media Atropatene

100,000 in total

50,000 cavalry
Casualties and losses
ca. 32,000 men lost[3]
Unknown number captured[4]

Julius Caesar had planned an invasion of Parthia, but he was assassinated before implementing it. In 40 BC, the Parthians were joined by Pompeian forces and briefly captured much of the Roman East, but were defeated in Antony's counter-attack.

Antony finally began the campaign against Parthia. Joining with regional kingdoms, the invasion force reached a total of 100,000 men. But the campaign ended in a disastrous defeat due to the lack of a clear strategy. Plutarch states that after their disastrous retreat from the Parthian territories, when the Romans "set foot in Armenia, as if they had just caught sight of that land from the sea, they saluted it and fell to weeping and embracing one another for joy."[6]

However, the war became a strategic draw when peace was later negotiated by Augustus.



Julius Caesar, after ensuring victory in his civil war, planned a campaign into the Parthian Empire in 44 BC. to avenge the earlier defeat of a Roman army led by Marcus Licinius Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae. Caesar's plan was, after a brief pacification of Dacia, to continue east into Parthian territory.[7] After his assassination, the Second Triumvirate, composed of Marcus Antonius (Antony), Marcus Lepidus and Gaius Octavianus (later known as Augustus), was formed. After the defeat of Caesar's assassins at the Battle of Philippi, Caesarian rule over the Republic was effectively ensured. Shortly after, however, with the triumvirs preoccupied with the revolt of Sextus Pompey in Sicily, Parthia attacked Roman-controlled Syria and the client kingdom of Judea. The Judean high priest and puppet Roman ruler, Hyrcanus II, was overthrown and sent as prisoner to Seleucia, and the pro-Parthian Hasmonean Antigonus was installed in his place. Antigonus was the only remaining son of former king Aristobulus II who the Romans deposed when they installed the weaker Hyrcanus II as high priest (but not king) in 63 BC. Upon capturing Hyrcanus II, Antigonus bit off his uncle's ears to disqualify him from ever again serving as high priest.[8]

In Anatolia, the Parthians allied with Quintus Labienus, son of Caesar's former general and later antagonist Titus Labienus, penetrating deep into the west and defeating a Roman army under Decidius Saxa. They were however defeated in turn by a veteran army led by Publius Ventidius Bassus, who drove the invaders from Roman territory.

The warEdit

With the aid of Mark Antony, Triumvir and lover of Egyptian Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII, the son-in-law of Hyrcanus, Herod, returned to Judea and recaptured Jerusalem in 37 BC. Antony then went on to attack the Parthian Empire itself, marching into Atropatene[9] (present-day Iranian Azerbaijan) with some 100,000 legionaries, aided by the Roman client kings in Armenia, Galatia, Cappadocia and sovereign Pontus. The campaign proved a disaster however, after a Roman slipup at Phraaspa, capital of Atropatene, and "during this confrontation, the Parthians captured ten thousand Roman troops, some of whom were Germans from the Rhineland, and sent them as hostages to Merv". Additionally, thousands of Romans and auxiliaries died during the retreat due to the cold winter. Antony lost more than a quarter of its strength in the course of the campaign.

Again with Egyptian money, Antony invaded Armenia, this time successfully. In the return, a mock Roman Triumph was celebrated in the streets of Alexandria. The parade through the city was a pastiche of Rome's most important military celebration. For the finale, the whole city was summoned to hear a very important political statement. In 34 BC, surrounded by Cleopatra and her children, Antony ended his alliance with Octavian.

Subsequent eventsEdit

Antony later went on to annex Armenia, afraid the kingdom would seek Parthian support, but the war didn't end formally until 20 BC, by a peace made by Augustus, ensuring the return of the captured legionary eagles of Crassus' and Saxa's armies, Antony's main excuse for the invasion of Parthia proper.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica "A long-prepared attack on Parthia in 36 failed, with heavy losses - it was Anthony's first military failure"
  2. ^ Bivar, H.D.H (1968). William Bayne Fisher; Ilya Gershevitch; Ehsan Yarshater; R. N. Frye; J. A. Boyle; Peter Jackson; Laurence Lockhart; Peter Avery; Gavin Hambly; Charles Melville (eds.). The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge University Press. p. 59. ISBN 0-521-20092-X.
  3. ^ a b Encyclopedia Iranica " Throughout this campaign Antony showed no clear perception of how to fight the Parthians nor any consistent strategic plan or political aim. His losses—probably ca. 32,000 men in all—inflicted a serious blow on Roman manpower"
  4. ^ "DEPORTATIONS – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Plutarch, Antony, chapter 49, section 4". Retrieved 2019-06-13.
  7. ^ Freeman, Philip. Julius Caesar. Simon and Schuster (2008) ISBN 978-0743289542, p.347-349
  8. ^ Jewish Wars I 13:9
  9. ^