Romans

   The Romans, who rose to prominence in Italy and conquered the western Mediterranean sphere between about 600 and 200 b.c., at first had little interest in Mesopotamia, which they saw as a distant region on the fringes of the known world. But in the second and first centuries B.c.Romecon-quered Greece, Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine; that greatly increased the size of its empire and widened the scope of its political ambitions in the East. By the first century b.c. Mesopotamia and other large tracts of the Near East were under the control of the Parthian Empire, which had recently supplanted the Seleucid Empire in the region. And for a long time the Parthians were the chief impediment to Roman penetration of Mesopotamia.
   The first Roman notable to move against the Parthians was the real-estate tycoon and powerful politician Marcus Li-cinius crassus, who had formed an important alliance with Julius Caesar in 60 b.c. While Caesar was away fighting in Gaul (now France), Crassus sought to distinguish himself militarily in the East. In 53 b.c. Crassus led some thirty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry through Armenia and attacked the Parthians at Carrhae (Harran) in western Mesopotamia. The ill-fated venture resulted in the loss of three-quarters of the Roman force, Crassus's death, and the embarrassing loss of the Roman eagles (standards of the legions, or battalions). Hoping to recover the eagles and earn glory for himself, another Roman general, Marcus Antonius (or Mark Antony), invaded Parthia in 36 b.c. His strategy was to capture the
   Parthian cities, but this became impossible when the enemy captured his siege devices. He ended up losing more than half his men and had to retreat. Though he planned to return and try again, Antonius was defeated by Caesar's adopted son, Oc-tavian, in 31 b.c. during a Roman civil war and committed suicide the following year. Octavian soon took the name of Augustus and became the first of a long line of Roman emperors. He had no immediate designs on the East, so he signed a treaty with Parthia. It made Armenia a neutral buffer zone between Roman and Parthian lands and was the basis of a peace maintained between the two peoples for more than a century. Also, the Parthians returned the captured Roman eagles and prisoners that they had been holding.
   In a.d. 114, however, one of Augustus's successors, the emperor Trajan (reigned 98-117), decided to attack Mesopotamia and bring it into the Roman fold. First Trajan overran Armenia. Then he captured the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and marched to the Persian Gulf. The Parthians, whose decentralized political structure was unable to withstand this assault, sued for peace, and Rome now had a realistic chance of dismantling the rest of the Parthian Empire. However, Trajan's successor, Hadrian (117-138), gave up Mesopotamia, feeling that Rome could save many precious lives and resources by staying out of the area.
   If the Parthians thought that the danger posed by Rome was over, however, they were mistaken. Several later emperors launched military campaigns into Mesopotamia, including Marcus Aurelius (161180), Septimius Severus (193-211), and Caracalla (211-217), the last of whom died during his campaign. These attacks contributed to the steady decline of the Parthian realm and allowed the Sassanian Empire to rise in its place beginning in 224. The Romans were now in for a rude awakening. The Sassanians were more centrally organized than the Parthians had been, and the first Sassanian rulers created a strong, well-trained army that was a match for the Roman armies of the day. The Sassanian ruler Shapur I boldly attacked Roman territories in Syria. The emperor Valerian (253-260) responded with an army, but he suffered heavy casualties, both in battle and from a bout of plague that struck his forces. Valerian called for negotiations, which turned out to be a serious mistake. When he and Shapur met under a flag of truce, the Sassanians treacherously took Valerian prisoner, and he spent the rest of his life in the humiliating role of a foot servant to Shapur. Not long afterward the emperor Julian (361-363) entered Mesopotamia and tried to capture Ctesiphon, but it was too well fortified. During his march back to Syria, Julian died. Another Roman setback occurred when his successor, Jovian (363-364), signed a lopsided treaty with King Shapur II that forced the Romans to give up the sections of Mesopotamia they had recently taken.
   Later, in 476, the western part of the Roman Empire ceased to exist thanks to a series of devastating incursions of tribal peoples from central and northern Europe. But the eastern sector of the realm, centered at Constantinople on the southern rim of the Black Sea, survived and steadily mutated into the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire. In the 500s the Byzantine Romans clashed with the Sassanians in Syria, but no Roman army ever threatened Mesopotamia again.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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