Did Caesar’s Ambition to Conquer Parthia Lead to His Assassination?
In 56 BC, Julius Caesar invited Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus to Luca in Cisalpine Gaul (modern-day Lucca, Italy) in an effort to repair their strained relationship, which had been established around 60 BC, but was kept secret from the Senate. During this event, a crowd of 100 or more senators showed up to petition for their desired sovereign patronages. The men cast lots and chose which areas to govern. Caesar’s wish was granted and he acquired Gaul; Pompey obtained Spain; and Crassus received Syria. All of this became official when Pompey and Crassus were elected as consuls in 55 BC.
The First Triumvirate of the Roman Republic: Gnaeus Pompeius, Licinius Crassus, and Gaius Julius Caesar (Mary Harrsch / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Crassus was delighted that his lot fell on Syria as it was his desire to make the two previous campaigns of Lucullus against Tigranes and Pompey’s against Mithridates, appear mediocre. His grand strategy of conquest and confiscation went beyond Parthia, surpassed Bactria and India, reaching the Outer Ocean – a strategy easier envisioned than orchestrated.
Crassus’ Attempt on Parthia
Crassus’ plan to engage a war with Parthia by launching a preemptive strike caused great commotion among the senators. The Senate opposed the plan since Rome had a treaty with Parthia in place. However, men driven by power and ambition have different perspectives. While the Senate was against the idea, Caesar supported it and he sent correspondence from Gaul encouraging Crassus to take on this venture. Thus, Crassus received Caesar’s blessing. The wily Caesar would have approved of such an undertaking since Crassus, a businessman, was not cut of military material. Crassus may have had financial backing to raise and support an army, but he was not a military mastermind like Pompey or Caesar. Caesar would have approved of such an expedition, because with Crassus eliminated in battle, it would leave just two men to fight over control of the Republic.
The Death of Marcus Licinius Crassus by Lancelot Blondeel, (circa 1548 - 1558) Musea Brugge – Groeningemuseum ( Public Domain )
As predicted, Crassus met his end at the battle of Carrhae 53 BC as the Parthian forces soundly defeated the Romans. This victory at Carrhae placed Parthia on an equal, if not superior footing with Rome, at least for a brief moment in history.
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Cam Rea is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including: The Wars of Israel: A Military History of Ancient Israel from the End of Judges to Solomon
Top Image: Julius Caesar on Horseback, Writing and Dictating Simultaneously to His Scribes by Jaques de Gheyn II (1629) ( Public Domain )
By Cam Rea