Parthia was the scene of one of the Roman Empire’s most crushing defeats. Seven legions of the Roman army, led by wealthy politician and military commander, Marcus Licinius Crassus, advanced into Carrhae in 53 BCE, as part of a strategy to conquer the powerful Parthian Empire. The 35,000-strong legions advanced on the waiting Parthians in a square formation, designed to create a defensive barrier. This was initially successful, with the Parthians’ mounted archers making negligible impact on the square. The Parthians then ‘retreated’ northeastward. Publius, Crassus’ son, and his force, pursued the Parthians who, hidden from the main Roman army, butchered them, decapitating Publius. The Parthians returned to attack the remaining army, using Publius’ head as a trophy. Their tactics worked. The Romans, who were under the false impression the mounted archers had retreated, were unprepared for this assault. Crassus was killed and there were few Roman survivors.
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