UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Roman Mesopotamia - AD 115-117 - From Trajan to Hadrian

Under the Roman Empire, Mesopotamia was divided into two parts, of which the western was called Osrhoene, while the eastern continued to bear its ancient name. It was conquered by Trajan in AD 115, who took Singara and Nisibis, and formed the three Roman provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, of which Mesopotamia reached as far as the Persian Gulf. (Dion Cass. Ixviii. 22, 23; Eutrop. viii. 3 ; Enseb. p. 165, ed. Scalig.; Malalas, p. 274, ed. Bonn ) But even Trajan could not retain his conquests (Dion Cass. Ixviii. 29), and they were given up by Hadrian of his own accord. (Eutrop.viii.6.)

Trajan, a virtuous and active prince, had received the education of a soldier, and possessed the talents of a general. Trajan's only error as Emperor was his desire to be ranked in subsequent ages as a great warrior and conqueror. As the time of Roman conquest had passed, he would have exhibited wisdom and policy in regarding the great rivers Rhine, Danube and Euphrates, as the boundaries of the Roman Empire, in accordance with the advice of Augustus.

The peaceful system of his predecessors was interrupted by scenes of war and conquest; and the legions, after a long interval, beheld a military emperor at their head. Trajan was ambitious of fame; and as long as mankind shall continue to bestow more liberal applause on their destroyers than on their benefactors, the thirst of military glory will ever be the vice of the most exalted characters. The praises of Alexander, transmitted by a succession of poets and historians, had kindled a dangerous emulation in the mind of Trajan. Like him, the Roman emperor undertook an expedition against the nations of the east. The success of Trajan, however transient, was rapid and specious.

The pretext for the war with the Parthian Empire was the conflicting claims of the Romans and the Parthians to direct the affairs of Armenia. Trajan began the war by invading Armenia in AD 115, and conquering that country and reducing it to the condition of a Roman province; the Armenian king himself being taken prisoner. Trajan then invaded the territories of the Parthian Empire, overrunning and subduing Mesopotamia and Assyria, also reducing those Parthian dependencies to the condition of Roman provinces.

The next year (AD 116) Trajan marched southward and invaded the Parthian province of Babylonia, taking the cities of Seleucia, Ctesiphon and Babylon, and ravaging the country as far as Susa. When the Parthians had made a stand on the Euphrates, Trajan caused a large number of boats to be constructed among the mountains during a single night, brought them to the river suddenly, and transported his troops across the stream in the very presence of the enemy. In this campaign Trajan traversed countries which had never before been trod by the foot of a Roman soldier.

The degenerate Parthians, broken by intestine discord, fled before his arms. He descended the river Tigris in triumph, from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian gulf. He enjoyed the honour of being the first, as he was the last, of the Roman generals, who ever navigated that remote sea. His fleets ravaged the coasts of Arabia; and Trajan vainly flattered himself that he was approaching towards the confines of India. But the death of Trajan soon clouded the splendid prospect, and it was justly to be dreaded, that so many distant nations would throw on the unaccustomed yoke, when they were no longer restrained by the powerful hand which had imposed it.

But revolts now broke out in Trajan's rear. Seleucia rebelled, but was retaken. The city of Hatra (now El Hadr) resisted Trajan with success. The inclemency of the weather and the inundations of the rivers almost destroyed Trajan's army; and the Emperor, suffering from the infirmities of age, and convinced of his untenable position, found himself obliged to retreat. He therefore relinquished the province of Babylonia to a Parthian prince named Parthamdspates, who consented to hold his dominions under the suzerainty of the Roman sovereign. Trajan then retired to Antioch, still retaining the provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia and Assyria as the fruits of the war.

Trajan died in 117 AD, and was succeeded by his adopted son Hadrian. The resignation of all the eastern conquests of Trajan was the first measure of the reign of the emperor Hadrian. Hadrian, who, as prefect of Syria, had been a near witness of Trajan's campaigns, and possessed an intimate acquaintance with the general condition of the East, was deeply convinced that the attempt of Trajan had been a mistake, and that the true policy for Rome was that laid down in principle by Augustus—that the possessions of the empire should not be extended beyond their natural and traditional limits. He resolved, therefore, to withdraw the Roman legions once more within the Euphrates, and to relinquish the newly-conquered provinces, of which so great a boast had been made—Armenia, Mesopotamia, Adiabene. It is generally allowed by modern historians, that the resolution was a wise one.

Hadrian restored to the Parthians the election of an independent Sovereign, withdrew the Roman garrisons from the provinces of Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, and, in compliance with the precept of Augustus, once more established the Euphrates as the frontier of the empire. Censure, which arraigns the public actions and the private motives of princes, has ascribed to envy, a conduct which might be attributed to the prudence and moderation of Hadrian. The various character of that emperor, capable, by turns, of the meanest and the most generous sentiments, may afford some colour to the suspicion. It was, however, scarcely in his power to place the superiority of his predecessor in a more conspicuous light, than by thus confessing himself unequal to the task of defending the conquests of Trajan.

As far as the Euphrates Greek colonisation had so leavened the original Asiatic mass as to render it semi-European, and so to prepare it to a large extent for the reception of Roman ideas and Roman principles of government: beyond, the Greek infusion had been too weak to produce much effect—Orientalism pure prevailed—and Western institutions, if introduced, would have found themselves in an alien soil, where they could only have withered and died. Even apart from this, the Roman Empire was already so large as to be unwieldy, and to endanger its continued cohesion. The chiefs of provinces east of the Euphrates would have been so far removed from the seat of government as to be practically exempt from effectual control and supervision. They would have had enormous forces in men and money at their command, and have been under a perpetual temptation to revolt and endeavour to secure for themselves an independent position. The garrisoning, moreover, of such extensive countries would have been a severe drain upon the military resources of the empire, and would have exercised a demoralising influence upon the soldiery, such as was already felt to some extent with regard to the legions quartered in Syria. Altogether, it is clear that the course pursued by Hadrian in contracting once more the eastern limits of the empire was a prudent one., and entitles the prince who adopted it, not only to the praise of "moderation," but to that of political insight and sagacity.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:20:53 ZULU