Why, in the middle of a civil war, did Marcus Antonius lead an expedition to Parthia? The answer ought to be obvious: Romans wanted to avenge Marcus Crassus’ defeat and bring back the standards his army lost there in 53, thereby restoring order to world politics. Reassessments of Romano-Parthian relations (e.g. Noè 1997; Curran 2007; Morrell 2017) allow us to see that even in 37 the Parthians were not naturally the mortal enemies of Rome. Morrell argues that Pompeius persuaded the senate to forego a war of revenge at the time of the disaster. Noè demonstrates the ease with which Pompeius and his friends called upon the Parthians for assistance. Curran argues that the ‘war of revenge’ was classic popularis, not Roman, policy. Antonius himself had a strangely ‘un-Roman’ attitude to imperialism which might have resulted in a very different Roman Empire if he had succeeded. His decision to invade Parthia needs to be read in this context. Van Wijlick sees the objective as limited: to weaken Parthia by excluding it from Media Atropatene. Prof. Welch argues that Antonius’ Parthian expedition was mostly about his rivalry with the younger Caesar. Events leading up to the pact of Brundisium in 40 surely taught him that he could not dominate his young colleague by military means, nor through an alliance with the opposition on Sicily. A victory in Parthia would have enhanced Antonius’ military reputation, even perhaps enabling him to outshine the Dictator Caesar himself. Antonius chose to go to Parthia because it presented the only available opportunity to neutralise both generations of the “Caesar” factor.
References: Noè, E. (1997) ‘Province, parti e guerre civile: il caso di Labieno’, Athenaeum 85, 409-36. Curran, J. (2007) ‘The ambitions of Q. Labienus ‘Parthicus’, Antichthon 41, 33-53. Strootman, R. (2010) ‘Queen of Kings: Kleopatra VII and the donations of Alexandria’, in Facella, M. and Kaizer, T. (eds.) Kingdoms and Principalities in the Roman Near East: Occidens et Oriens 19, Oxford, 140-57 Van Wijlick, H. (2015) ‘Constructing Alliances: a new perspective on Mark Antony’s Parthian Campaign of 36 BC’, Journal of Ancient Civilizations 30, 65-71. Morrell, K. (2017) Pompey, Cato, and the Governance of the Roman Empire, Oxford.
Kathryn Welch joined The University of Sydney in 1991 after six years as a teacher at Kogarah High School and three years as a teaching assistant/Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland. Her main teaching and research interests are in Roman republican and early imperial history and historiography, though she also loves teaching the history of the city of Rome from antiquity to the present – either in Sydney or on the ground in Rome.
This talk is free and open to the public. Light lunch served at 12:15pm. Talk begins at 12:30pm.