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As soon as the ambitious mind of Artaxerxes
had triumphed ever the resistance of his vassals, he began to threaten the
neighboring states, who, during the long slumber of his predecessors, had insulted Persia
with impunity. He obtained some easy
victories over the wild Scythians and the effeminate
Indians; but the Romans
were an enemy, who, by their past injuries and
present power, deserved the utmost efforts of his arms. A forty years' tranquillity, the fruit of valor and moderation
succeeded the victories of Trajan
. During the period that elapsed from the accession of Marcus to the reign of Alexander
and the Parthian
empires were twice engaged in war; and although the whole strength of the Arsacides contended with
a part only of the forces of Rome, the event was most commonly in favor of the latter. Macrinus, indeed, prompted by his
precarious situation and pusillanimous
temper, purchased a peace at the expense of near two millions of our money; 37
generals of Marcus, the emperor Severus
, and his son, erected many trophies in Armenia
, and Assyria
their exploits, the imperfect relation of which would have unseasonably interrupted the more important series of domestic
revolutions, we shall only mention the repeated calamities of the two great cities of Seleucia and Ctesiphon.
Footnote 37: Dion,
l. xxviii. p. 1335.
Seleucia, on the western bank of the Tigris
, about forty-five miles to the north of ancient Babylon
, was the capital of the
n conquests in Upper Asia. 38
Many ages after the fall of their empire, Seleucia retained the genuine characters of
a Grecian colony
, arts, military virtue
, and the love of freedom
. The independent republic was governed by a senate of three
hundred nobles; the people consisted of six hundred thousand citizens; the walls were strong, and as long as concord prevailed
among the several orders of the state, they viewed with contempt
the power of the Parthian
: but the madness of faction was
sometimes provoked to implore the dangerous aid of the common enemy, who was posted almost at the gates of the colony
monarchs, like the Mogul sovereigns of Hindostan, delighted in the pastoral life of their Scythian ancestors;
and the Imperial camp was frequently pitched in the plain of Ctesiphon, on the eastern bank of the Tigris
, at the distance of only
three miles from Seleucia. 40
The innumerable attendants on luxury
resorted to the court, and the little village of
Ctesiphon insensibly swelled into a great city. 41
Under the reign of Marcus, the Roman
generals penetrated as far as
Ctesiphon and Seleucia. They were received as friends by the Greek colony
; they attacked as enemies the seat of the Parthian
kings; yet both cities experienced the same treatment. The sack and conflagration
of Seleucia, with the massacre of three
hundred thousand of the inhabitants, tarnished the glory
of the Roman
Seleucia, already exhausted by the
neighborhood of a too powerful rival, sunk under the fatal blow; but Ctesiphon, in about thirty- three years, had sufficiently
recovered its strength to maintain an obstinate
siege against the emperor Severus
. The city was, however, taken by assault; the
king, who defended it in person, escaped with precipitation; a hundred thousand captives, and a rich booty, rewarded the
fatigues of the Roman
Notwithstanding these misfortunes, Ctesiphon succeeded to Babylon
and to Seleucia, as
one of the great capitals of the East. In summer, the monarch of Persia
enjoyed at Ecbatana the cool breezes of the mountains
; but the mildness of the climate engaged him to prefer Ctesiphon for his winter residence.
Footnote 38: For the precise situation of Babylon, Seleucia, Ctesiphon, Moiain, and Bagdad, cities often confounded with
each other, see an excellent Geographical Tract of M. d'Anville, in Mem. de l'Academie, tom. xxx.
Footnote 39: Tacit. Annal.
xi. 42. Plin. Hist. Nat. vi. 26.
Footnote 40: This may be inferred from Strabo, l. xvi. p. 743.
Footnote 41: That most curious
traveller, Bernier, who followed the camp of Aurengzebe from Delhi to Kashmir , describes with great accuracy the immense
moving city. The guard of cavalry consisted of 35,000 men, that of infantry of 10,000. It was computed that the camp
contained 150,000 horses, mules, and elephants; 50,000 camels, 50,000 oxen, and between 300,000 and 400,000 persons.
Almost all Delhi followed the court, whose magnificence supported its industry .
Footnote 42: Dion, l. lxxi. p. 1178. Hist. August. p. 38. Eutrop. viii. 10 Euseb. in Chronic. Quadratus (quoted in the Augustan
History) attempted to vindicate the Romans by alleging that the citizens of Seleucia had first violated their faith.
Footnote 43: Dion, l. lxxv. p. 1263. Herodian , l. iii. p. 120. Hist. August. p. 70.
From these successful inroads the Romans
derived no real or lasting benefit; nor did they attempt to preserve such distant
conquests, separated from the provinces of the empire by a large tract of interMedia
te desert. The reduction of the kingdom of
Osrhoene was an acquisition of less splendor
indeed, but of a far more solid advantage. That little state occupied the northern
and most fertile part of Mesopotamia
, between the Euphrates
and the Tigris
. Edessa, its capital, was situated about twenty
miles beyond the former of those rivers; and the inhabitants, since the time of Alexander
, were a mixed race of Greek
s, and Armenian
The feeble sovereigns of Osrhoene, placed on the dangerous verge of two contending empires,
were attached from inclination to the Parthian
cause; but the superior power of Rome exacted from them a reluctant homage,
which is still attested by their medals. After the conclusion of the Parthian
war under Marcus, it was judged prudent to secure
some substantia, pledges of their doubtful fidelity. Forts were constructed in several parts of the country, and a Roman
was fixed in the strong town of Nisibis. During the troubles that followed the death of Commodus
, the princes of Osrhoene
attempted to shake off the yoke; but the stern policy of Severus
confirmed their dependence, 45
and the perfidy of Caracalla
completed the easy conquest. Abgarus, the last king of Edessa, was sent in chains to Rome, his dominions reduced into a
province, and his capital dignified with the rank of colony
; and thus the Romans
, about ten years before the fall of the Parthian
, obtained a firm and permanent establishment beyond the Euphrates
Footnote 44: The polished citizens of Antioch called those of Edessa mixed barbarians. It was, however, some praise, that of
the three dialects of the Syriac, the purest and most elegant (the Aramaean) was spoken at Edessa. This remark M. Bayer
(Hist. Edess. p 5) has borrowed from George of Malatia, a Syrian writer.
Footnote 45: Dion, l. lxxv. p. 1248, 1249, 1250. M. Bayer has neglected to use this most important passage.
Footnote 46: This kingdom, from Osrhoes, who gave a new name to the country, to the last Abgarus, had lasted 353 years.
See the learned work of M. Bayer, Historia Osrhoena et Edessena.
as well as glory might have justified a war on the side of ArtaXerxes
, had his views been confined to the defence or
acquisition of a useful frontier. but the ambitious Persian
openly avowed a far more extensive design of conquest; and he
thought himself able to support his lofty pretensions by the arms of reason as well as by those of power. Cyrus, he alleged, had
first subdued, and his successors had for a long time possessed, the whole extent of Asia, as far as the Propontis and the
; the provinces of Caria and Ionia
, under their empire, had been governed by Persian
satraps, and all Egyp
t, to the
confines of Aethiopia, had acknowledged
their sovereignty. 47
Their rights had been suspended, but not destroyed, by a long
usurpation; and as soon as he received the Persian
diadem, which birth and successful valor had placed upon his head, the first
great duty of his station called upon him to restore the ancient limits and splendor
of the monarchy
. The Great King, therefore,
(such was the haughty style of his embassies to the emperor Alexander
,) commanded the Romans
instantly to depart from all
the provinces of his ancestors, and, yielding to the Persian
s the empire of Asia, to content themselves with the undisturbed
possession of Europe
. This haughty mandate was delivered by four hundred of the tallest and most beautiful of the Persian
who, by their fine horses, splendid arms, and rich apparel, displayed the pride and greatness of their master. 48
was much less an offer of negotiation
than a declaration of war. Both Alexander Severus
force of the Roman
monarchies, resolved in this important contest to lead their armies in person.
Footnote 47:Xenophon, in the preface to the Cyropaedia, gives a clear and magnificent idea of the extent of the empire of
Cyrus. Herodotus (l. iii. c. 79, &c.) enters into a curious and particular description of the twenty great Satrapies into which the
Persian empire was divided by Darius Hystaspes.
Footnote 48: Herodian , vi. 209, 212.
If we credit what should seem the most authentic of all records, an oration, still extant, and delivered by the emperor himself to
the senate, we must allow that the victory of Alexander Severus
was not inferior to any of those formerly obtained over the
s by the son of Philip. The army of the Great King consisted of one hundred and twenty thousand horse, clothed in
complete armor of steel; of seven hundred elephants, with towers filled with archers on their backs, and of eighteen hundred
chariots armed with scythes. This formidable host, the like of which is not to be found in eastern history, and has scarcely been
imagined in eastern Roman
was discomfited in a great battle, in which the Roman Alexander
proved himself an intrepid
soldier and a skilful general. The Great King fled before his valor; an immense booty
, and the conquest of Mesopotamia
te fruits of this signal victory. Such are the circumstances of this ostentatious
and improbable relation, dictated, as it
too plainly appears, by the vanity
of the monarch, adorned by the unblushing servility
of his flatterers, and received without
contradiction by a distant and obsequious
Far from being inclined to believe that the arms of Alexander
any memorable advantage over the Persian
s, we are induced to suspect that all this blaze of iMagi
nary glory was designed to
conceal some real disgrace.
Footnote 49: There were two hundred scythed chariots at the battle of Arbela, in the host of Darius . In the vast army of
Tigranes, which was vanquished by Lucullus, seventeen thousand horse only were completely armed. Antioch us brought
fifty-four elephants into the field against the Romans: by his frequent wars and negotiation s with the princes of India, he had
once collected a hundred and fifty of those great animals; but it may be questioned whether the most powerful monarch of
Hindostan evci formed a line of battle of seven hundred elephants. Instead of three or four thousand elephants, which the Great
Mogul was supposed to possess, Tavernier (Voyages, part ii. l. i. p. 198) discovered, by a more accurate inquiry, that he had
only five hundred for his baggage, and eighty or ninety for the service of war. The Greeks have varied with regard to the
number which Porus brought into the field; but Quintus Curtius, (viii. 13,) in this instance judicious and moderate, is contented
with eighty-five elephants, distinguished by their size and strength. In Siam, where these animals are the most numerous and the
most esteemed, eighteen elephants are allowed as a sufficient proportion for each of the nine brigades into which a just army is
divided. The whole number, of one hundred and sixty-two elephants of war, may sometimes be doubled. Hist. des Voyages,
tom. ix. p. 260.
Note: Compare Gibbon's note 10 to ch. lvii - M.
Footnote 50: Hist. August. p. 133.
Note: See M. Guizot's note, p. 267. According to the Persian authorities Ardeschir extended his conquests to the Euphrates.
Malcolm i. 71. - M.
Our suspicious are confirmed by the authority of a contemporary historian, who mentions the virtue
with respect, and his faults with candor. He describes the judicious plan which had been formed for the conduct of
the war. Three Roman
armies were destined to invade Persia
at the same time, and by different roads. But the operations of the
campaign, though wisely concerted, were not executed either with ability or success. The first of these armies, as soon as it had
entered the marshy plains of Babylon
, towards the artificial conflux of the Euphrates
and the Tigris
was encompassed by
the superior numbers, and destroyed by the arrows of the enemy. The alliance of Chosroes, king of Armenia
and the long
tract of mountainous country, in which the Persian cavalry
was of little service
, opened a secure entrance into the heart of
, to the second of the Roman
armies. These brave troops laid waste the adjacent provinces, and by several successful
actions against ArtaXerxes
, gave a faint color to the emperor's vanity
. But the retreat of this victorious army was imprudent, or
at least unfortunate. In repassing the mountains, great numbers of soldiers perished by the badness of the roads, and the
severity of the winter season. It had been resolved, that whilst these two great detachments penetrated into the opposite
extremes of the Persian
dominions, the main body, under the command of Alexander
himself, should support their attack, by
invading the centre of the kingdom. But the unexperienced youth, influenced by his mother's counsels, and perhaps by his own
fears, deserted the bravest troops, and the fairest prospect of victory; and after consuming in Mesopotamia
an inactive and
inglorious summer, he led back to Antioch
an army diminished by sickness, and provoked by disappointment
. The behavior of
had been very different. Flying with rapidity from the hills of Media
to the marshes of the Euphrates
, he had
everywhere opposed the invaders in person; and in either fortune had united with the ablest conduct the most undaunted
resolution. But in several obstinate
engagements against the veteran legions of Rome, the Persian
monarch had lost the flower of
his troops. Even his victories had weakened his power. The favorable opportunities of the absence of Alexander
, and of the
confusions that followed that emperor's death, presented themselves in vain to his ambition. Instead of expelling the Romans
he pretended, from the continent of Asia, he found himself unable to wrest from their hands the little province of Mesopotamia
Footnote 51: M. de Tillemont has already observed, that Herodian 's geography is somewhat confused.
Footnote 52: Moses of Chorene (Hist. Armen. l. ii. c. 71) illustrates this invasion of Media , by asserting that Chosroes, king of
Armenia, defeated ArtaXerxes , and pursued him to the confines of India. The exploits of Chosroes have been magnified; and he
acted as a dependent ally to the Romans.
Footnote 53: For the account of this war, see Herodian , l. vi. p. 209, 212. The old abbreviators and modern compilers have
blindly followed the Augustan History.
The reign of ArtaXerxes
, which, from the last defeat of the Parthian
s, lasted only fourteen years, forms a memorable aera in the
history of the East, and even in that of Rome. His character seems to have been marked by those bold and commanding
features, that generally distinguish the princes who conquer, from those who inherit an empire. Till the last period of the Persian
, his code of laws was respected as the groundwork of their civil and religious policy. 54
Several of his sayings are
preserved. One of them in particular discovers a deep insight into the constitution
. "The authority of the prince,"
, "must be defended by a military
force; that force can only be maintained by taxes; all taxes must, at last, fall
; and agriculture
can never flourish except under the protection of justice
." 55 ArtaXerxes
bequeathed his new empire, and his ambitious designs against the Romans
, to Sapor, a son not unworthy of his great father; but
those designs were too extensive for the power of Persia, and served only to involve both nations in a long series of destructive
wars and reciprocal calamities.
Footnote 54: Eutychius, tom. ii. p. 180, vers. Pocock. The great Chosroes Noushirwan sent
the code of ArtaXerxes to all his satraps, as the invariable rule of their conduct.
Footnote 55: D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, au mot Ardshir.
We may observe, that after an ancient period of fables, and a long interval of darkness, the modern histories of Persia begin to
assume an air of truth with the dynasty of Sassanides.
Compare Malcolm, i. 79. - M.
s, long since civilized and
corrupted, were very far from possessing the martial independence, and the intrepid
hardiness, both of mind and body, which
have rendered the northern barbarians masters of the world. The science of war, that constituted the more rational force of
and Rome, as it now does of Europe
, never made any considerable progress in the East. Those disciplined
which harmonize and animate a confused multitude, were unknown to the Persian
s. They were equally unskilled in the arts of
constructing, besieging, or defending regular fortification
s. They trusted more to their numbers than to their courage; more to
their courage than to their discipline
. The infantry was a half-armed, spiritless crowd of peasants, levied in haste by the
allurements of plunder
, and as easily dispersed by a victory as by a defeat. The monarch
and his nobles transported into the
camp the pride and luxury
of the seraglio. Their military
operations were impeded by a useless train of women, eunuchs, horses,
and camels; and in the midst of a successful campaign, the Persian
host was often separated or destroyed by an unexpected
Footnote 56: Herodian , l. vi. p. 214. Ammianus Marcellinus, l. xxiii. c. 6. Some differences may be observed
between the two historians, the natural effects of the changes produced by a century and a half.
But the nobles of Persia, in the bosom of luxury
, preserved a strong sense of personal gallantry
honor. From the age of seven years they were taught to speak truth, to shoot with the bow, and to ride; and it was universally
confessed, that in the two last of these arts, they had made a more than common proficiency
The most distinguished youth
were educated under the monarch's eye, practised their exercises in the gate of his palace, and were severely trained up to the
habits of temperance and obedience, in their long and laborious parties of hunting. In every province, the satrap maintained a
like school of military virtue
. The Persian
nobles (so natural is the idea of feudal
tenures) received from the king's bounty lands
and houses, on the condition of their service
in war. They were ready on the first summons to mount on horseback, with a
martial and splendid train of followers, and to join the numerous bodies of guards, who were carefully selected from among the
most robust slaves, and the bravest adventures of Asia. These armies, both of light and of heavy cavalry
, equally formidable by
of their charge and the rapidity of their motions, threatened, as an impending cloud, the eastern provinces of the
declining empire of Rome. 58
Footnote 57: The Persians are still the most skilful horsemen, and their horses the finest in the East.
Footnote 58: From Herodotus, Xenophon, Herodian , Ammianus, Chardin, &c., I have extracted such probable accounts of
the Persian nobility, as seem either common to every age, or particular to that of the Sassanides.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
1st ed. (London : Printed for W. Strahan ; and T. Cadell, 1776-1788.), pp. 209-216.