« EelmineJätka »
till dusk came, but when the fall of night compelled the Parthians to withdraw, the whole army, officers and soldiers alike, demanded to be led back to the Euphrates. A deputation went to seek for the proconsul, who was found stretched on the ground, with his head wrapped in his cloak, mourning for his son. Since he seemed sunk in a dull apathy, and refused to issue any orders, the quaestor of Crassus took it upon himself to bid the army decamp under cover of the night, and make a forced march for Carrhae. The baggage and 4000 wounded were left to the mercy of the enemy.
A night retreat is always fatal to troops who have lost their nerve, and the Romans, dropping with fatigue and wearied by twelve hours spent under arms, had no longer the power to move rapidly or to keep their distances. When day broke, they were found straggling across the plains in half-a-dozen disjointed columns, each of which had to shift for itself. The Parthians came up a few hours later and beset the retreating army. Some of the more belated corps and multitudes of the stragglers were cut up, but the main body reached Carrhae in the afternoon.
Next night Crassus again commenced to retreat, for his troops were so demoralised that he felt sure that it was hopeless to make any stand east of the Euphrates. The second day of flight was as disastrous as the first; the troops lost all touch with each other, and the greater part of the horse, leaving the infantry in the lurch, never drew rein till they had saved themselves in the mountains. Crassus himself, with only four cohorts in his company, was worried all day by a swarm of horsebowmen, who succeeded in intercepting his way to the hills, and finally compelled him to halt and stand at bay on an isolated eminence just outside the limit of safety. Then followed a miserable scene of treachery. The
THE DEATH OF CRASSUS
Parthian vizier came up, and seeing that it would be hard to storm the hill, proposed a conference, holding out prospects of granting a peace, on condition that Crassus should order the evacuation of the Mesopotamian cities and retire beyond the Euphrates. The soldiery hailed with joy a proposal that promised a relief from their present desperate condition, but the triumvir himself was not deluded, and warned all those about him that the only safe course was to hold out till night, and then make a dash for the hills through the lines of the enemy. His exhortations produced little effect, and seeing that his men were utterly demoralised and unwilling to fight any longer, he consented to go down and treat. It is said that he took his officers to witness that he went to his death with his eyes open, but that for the credit of Rome “it would be better to say that the general was deceived by the enemy rather than that he had been abandoned by his own men.”
The sequel was exactly like the scene at Caubul in 1841, when the unfortunate Macnaughten went down to treat with Akbar Khan. Crassus and his escort were received at first with ostentatious respect, and a conference was begun. Presently a feigned scuffle was got up, and hands were laid upon the proconsul, whereupon one of his legates drew his sword. This acted as the necessary signal for open violence, and Surena's attendants fell upon the Romans and despatched them every one. Crassus's head was cut off and sent to Seleucia to be laid before the great king. Every one has read of the scene that followed the arrival of the ghastly trophy, a scene that illustrates accurately enough the curious admixture of savagery and civilisation at the court of the Arsacidae. King Orodes was witnessing the Bacchae of Euripides, wherein King Pentheus is torn to pieces by the frantic Theban women. The actor who was playing Agave seized the head of Crassus, and used it instead of the mask that represented the head of Pentheus in the wild dance at the end of the play. Orodes was charmed with the idea and presented the tragedian with a talent of silver.
We must not blame Crassus too much for the disaster of Carrhae. Probably any other Roman general of the day, with the possible exception of Cæsar, would have suffered a defeat under the same circumstances. For the Parthian method of war was utterly unknown to the Romans, and the legion, a splendid weapon against any other foe, was useless here. In later campaigns, profiting by Crassus's experience, the generals of the West never attempted to attack the Parthian in the open with an army of the old Roman type. They took into the field large bodies of cavalry and tens of thousands of foot-archers. These last proved especially successful against the troops of the Arsacidae, for the Parthian bow, having to be used on horseback, was necessarily short, and was out-ranged by that of the foot-soldier. Hence the Orientals had the choice between being overmatched in archery and being forced to charge home. In both cases they usually fared ill when engaging with the Romans. There never was a second Carrhae, but it is hard to see how the first could have been avoided.
It was a strange and inappropriate end to the life of Crassus that he should go down to history with his name attached to an error in military tactics, rather than to some political or financial fiasco. But a certain inevitable futility attached to all that he undertook. He wanted power, and thrice in his life the power was placed within his hand. But when he had it, he could not use it, for he was equally destitute of an ideal and of a programme. Even if Pompey had not always been at his side to check his ambition, we see that he would
THE MORAL OF HIS FATE
never have achieved anything great. The story of his career shows just how much and how little mere wealth, ambition, and industry, without genius, an inspiring personality, or an honest enthusiasm could accomplish in Roman politics.
AMONG all the statesmen with whom we have to deal in this last century of the Roman Republic, there were only two who were unselfish in their aims, looked for no personal profit, and devoted their lives to fighting for their party and their theory of the constitution. These were the two men who, among all the figures of this troubled time, bore the least similarity to each otherLucius Cornelius Sulla and Marcus Porcius Cato. Save that each was a devoted and disinterested partisan of the Optimate faction, there is absolutely no resemblance between them. What Sulla was we have already seen -an Epicurean to the core, gay, fastidious, taking life easily save in the moments of actual crisis in war or politics,—but when the heat of the fray was upon him capable of systematic cruelty on the widest scale. In all save his reactionary politics and his contempt for monarchy and its trappings, he was a typical Hellenized Roman of the decadence. Cato, on the other hand, was consistent in his reaction; he looked back to old Roman ideals, not merely in politics, but in social manners, dress, bearing, and morals. He is the most complete instance in history of what we may call deliberate archaism,—the careful observance of the customs and views of an extinct generation by a man who was clever enough to see the strangeness of . what he was doing, and yet persevered in it. For Cato was no mere Don Quixote, as Mommsen calls him; he did not spend his life in fighting monsters that were unreal, tilting