Cornelius Tacitus

The Annals

Book XV: I-XXXII - War with Parthia over Armenia

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‘Roman Soldier’
History of Rome and the Roman people, from its origin to the establishment of the Christian empire - Victor Duruy (1811 - 1894) (p406, 1884)
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Book XV:I Trouble in Parthia again

Meanwhile, Vologeses I, the king of Parthia, aware of Corbulo’s actions and the placing of the alien Tigranes on the Armenian throne, and while wanting to pursue vengeance for that contempt for Arsacian dignity shown by the expulsion of his brother Tiridates, yet, at the same time, drawn once more to consider other options, by the power of Rome and respect for the as yet unbroken treaty (of 20BC), and moreover being cautious by nature, was hampered by a rebellion of the Hyrcanians, a strong tribe, and the series of campaigns that ensued.

He was still in two minds, when news of a fresh indignity spurred him to action: for Tigranes, invading Adiabene, the neighbouring region, from Armenia, ravaged more widely and for far longer than implied by a mere raid after plunder, and the tribal chiefs were becoming restless, plunged as they were into humiliation by the event, harried by a general who was not even Roman, rather by the temerity of an ex-hostage for many years considered the Romans’ slave.

Their resentment was fuelled by Monobazus, the leading power in Adiabene, who asked what help he should seek and from where. Armenia had already been conceded; its neighbour would follow; and if Parthia failed to come to their defence, well, the Roman yoke weighed more lightly on those who surrendered than those who were conquered!

Tiridates too, exiled from the throne, carried greater weight by his silences or restrained protests, saying that great empires were not maintained by inaction; they demanded the use of men and arms in battle; to those of highest rank might was right, the glory of a private family was to hold their own possessions, of a king to contend for those of others.

Book XV:II Vologeses praises his brother Tiridates

Moved by this, Vologeses therefore summoned a council, seated Tiridates next to himself, and began thus: ‘When this prince, born of the same father as myself, conceded the supreme title to me on the grounds of age, I placed him in possession of Armenia, which owned to the status of a third power, since Media Atropatene had fallen to my brother Pacorus II.

It seemed to me that I had rightly brought order to our family’s House, rather than the hatred and rivalry brothers bore each other of old. The Romans now forbid it, and the peace they have never successfully challenged they are now breaking, to their ruin. I do not deny that I would rather have retained my father’s gains through fair dealing than bloodshed, reason than weapons.’

With this, he bound the diadem on Tiridates’ head, saying: ‘If I have been at fault in delaying, I will rectify it through valour. At all events, your courage and glory are intact, added to which is your reputation for self-control, which is not to be scorned by the greatest of mortals, and is valued by the gods.’

A cavalry force, which usually accompanied the king, was at hand, whose command he handed to a nobleman, Monaeses, adding some Adiabenian auxiliaries, and ordering him to drive Tigranes VI from Armenia, while he himself set aside his quarrel with the Hyrcanians, and summoned his internal forces and all the panoply of war, in a threat to the Roman provinces. 

Book XV:III Corbulo prepares for war

As soon as Corbulo was certain of the news he had received, he sent two legions, under Verulanus Severus, and Vettius Bolanus, to aid Tigranes, with private instructions that they act calmly rather than hastily: being in truth keener to contain than fight the war.

He had also written to Nero, saying that a second general was needed to defend Armenia: Syria being in grave danger if Vologeses attacked. Meanwhile he positioned his remaining legion on the banks of the Euphrates, armed an improvised force of provincials, and moved to block the enemy advance, by establishing garrison posts. Since the region was deficient in water, he also built forts to control the water sources; burying a few streams under banks of sand.

Book XV:IV Tigranes and the Romans defend the town of Tigranocerta

While Corbulo, therefore, prepared for the defence of Syria, Monaeses, marching at full speed, to overtake news of his advance, nonetheless failed to catch Tigranes unawares and off guard. Tigranes had occupied Tigranocerta, the town being formidable in the number of defenders and the scale of its fortifications. In addition the Nicephorius, a river of significant width, runs past a section of the walls, and a large moat had been dug where the flow was not to be relied on.

There were Roman troops within, and previously assembled supplies, during the transport of which a few men, advancing too eagerly, had been cut off by the swift-moving enemy, exciting anger rather than fear in the rest. The Parthian lacks sufficient daring however to promote a siege: resorting to occasional flights of arrows which fail to terrify the besieged and frustrate himself, while the Adiabeni, on deploying ladders and siege equipment, were easily dislodged, then cut down by a sally from our men. 

Book XV:V Vologeses decides to negotiate with Rome

Corbulo, however, despite an outcome favourable to him, decided not to press his good fortune, and sent a protest to Vologeses regarding the use of force against the province: by which a friendly monarch and Roman cohorts had been placed under siege. It would be better, he said, to lift the blockade, or he too would pitch camp in enemy territory. 

The centurion Casperius, chosen for the mission, approached the king at Nisibis (Nusaybin, Turkey), thirty-seven miles from Tigranocerta, and delivered the message forcefully. To avoid conflict with Rome was an old and deep-seated principle of Vologeses, nor was the present set of events favourable. The siege had been fruitless, Tigranes, with men and supplies, was safe; those who had undertaken the assault had fled; legions had been sent into Armenia, and more stood ready on the Syrian border for a further advance. His own cavalry were unfit for battle, lacking fodder for the horses: since a swarm of locusts had appeared that consumed every leaf of grass or foliage.

So, hiding his fears, he adopted a milder tone, replying that he would send envoys to the Roman emperor regarding his claim on Armenia, and strike a firm peace. He ordered Monaeses to abandon the siege of Tigranocerta, while he himself retired.

Book XV:VI Corbulo criticised, Paetus joins him

The majority acclaimed the outcome as a triumph, achieved due to Corbulo’s threats and the king’s fears: others suspected a private agreement, whereby if the conflict was suspended on both sides, and Vologeses withdrew, Tigranes would also quit Armenia. Why else, they said, would the Roman army have been withdrawn from Tigranocerta? Why abandon in peace what had been defended in war? How was it preferable for them to have wintered at the extremity of Cappadocia, in hastily arranged cover, rather than in the capital of a kingdom they had retained? In short, battle had been deferred, so that Vologeses might fight someone other than Corbulo, and Corbulo not endanger the laurels earned in the course of so many years!

For, as I have said, Corbulo had requested a second general to defend Armenia, and the news was that Caesennius Paetus was at hand. He had already arrived, the forces being divided such that the Fourth and Twelfth legions, reinforced by the Fifth recently summoned from Moesia, with auxiliaries from Pontus, Galatia and Cappadocia, were subject to Paetus; while the Third, Sixth and Tenth legions, and the troops formerly in Syria, remained with Corbulo; the rest to be used jointly or severally as events dictated.

But Corbulo was impatient of rivals, and Paetus, for whom the glory of serving as second-in-command might have proved sufficient, disdained the former’s achievements, saying there had been no bloodshed, no plunder, and the storming of cities had been achieved in name only: it was for he himself to impose tribute, law, and Roman jurisdiction on the conquered, in place of a shadow of a king.

Book XV:VII War and portents

At the same time, Vologeses’ envoys, whose mission to the emperor I have noted, returned empty-handed, and open warfare was initiated by Parthia. Paetus did not shirk confrontation, and entered Armenia, with two legions, the Fourth commanded by Funisulanus Vettonianus, and the Twelfth, under Calavius Sabinus, though to sinister omens.

For at the passage of the Euphrates, which they crossed by a bridge, the horse carrying the consular insignia took fright, for no apparent reason, and escaped to the rear. And a sacrificial victim tethered in the winter-quarters, which were being fortified, broke free, fled the half-completed works, and leapt out of the entrenchment.

The soldiers’ javelins also appeared to be on fire, a prodigy all the more striking in that the Parthian enemy fights it out with flying missiles.

Book XV:VIII Paetus crosses the Taurus Mountains then retreats

However, Paetus, ignoring all portents, with his winter-quarters not yet fully strengthened, making no provision for the supply of grain, hurried his troops over the Taurus Mountains, to retake Tigranocerta as intended, and ravage the region which Corbulo had left untouched.

He captured a few fortresses and would have gained a certain amount of glory and plunder, if he had kept his success within bounds, or been more careful with the plunder. But while he was racing through, in protracted marches, land he could not hold, the provisions he captured were ruined, and winter now threatened. He therefore led the army back again, and composed a letter to Nero, as if the war was over, as magnificently phrased as it was empty of content. 

Book XV:IX Corbulo holds the line, Vologeses turns to Armenia

Meanwhile, Corbulo had established further garrison-posts along the line of the Euphrates, which he had never failed to defend: and lest the construction of a pontoon bridge, formed by mooring large vessels across the stream, connected by planks and equipped with turrets, be impeded by the enemy cavalry (now an imposing sight as they manoeuvred on the adjoining plains) he drove the barbarians back by use of catapults and ballistae, the stones and spears penetrating further than could be matched by a counter-volley of arrows.

The bridge being completed, the hills beyond were occupied by the allied cohorts and then a legionary camp, at such a speed and with such a display of strength that the Parthians ceased their preparations for the invasion of Syria, and set all their hopes on Armenia, where Paetus, unaware of what impended, having retained the Fifth legion far away in Pontus, was weakening the other two by granting indiscriminate leave, when news came that Vologeses was advancing with a large and threatening column.

Book XV:X Paetus wavers

The Twelfth were summoned to join Paetus, such that the action, by which he hoped to advertise an increase to his forces, betrayed his weakness. Even so the fort might have been held and the Parthian thwarted by a delaying tactic, had Paetus remained faithful to his own counsel or that of others. In fact, no sooner had the soldiers’ courage hardened him to face the imminent crisis, than he changed his mind and, lest the judgement of others made his own seem lacking, took the opposite, less advantageous course.

Leaving his winter quarters, crying out that men and arms, not ditch and rampart, were assigned him to meet the enemy, he now led his legions forward as if to contest a battle. Then, after the loss of a centurion and a few soldiers, whom he had sent ahead to observe the enemy, he retraced his steps in trepidation.

As Vologeses had pursued less than keenly, Paetus’ vain self-confidence returned, and he positioned three thousand picked infantry on the neighbouring heights of the Taurus, where they were to bar the king’s passage; also deploying the flower of his cavalry, the Pannonian squadrons, in an area of the plain. His wife and son were concealed in a fortress, named Arsamosata, which was garrisoned by a cohort, thereby dispersing a force which concentrated might have readily checked a fickle adversary.

They say he would barely confess the threat to Corbulo, nor was Corbulo in any hurry, hoping that if the danger were even greater so would be the glory of a rescue. Nevertheless, Corbulo ordered a thousand men from each of his three legions and eight hundred auxiliary cavalry, with a similar number from the cohorts, to prepare for the road. 

Book XV:XI Vologeses defeats and scatters Paetus’ forces

But Vologeses, though he had received news that Paetus had the roads guarded, here by infantry, there cavalry, made no alteration to his plans, and by threats and force, struck the cavalry with fear, and crushed the legionaries; one lone centurion, Tarquitius Crescens, daring to defend the tower he was garrisoning, in repeated sorties killing the nearest barbarians who approached, till he was enveloped in burning firebrands.

The infantry who were unhurt fled far into the wilderness, the wounded returned to camp, exaggerating in their fear the king’s military virtues, the fierceness and numbers of the tribesmen, everything possible, and were readily believed by those who shared their terror.

The general himself offered no resistance, but abnegated all military function, having sent a further plea to Corbulo, telling him to come speedily, to save the eagles, the standards, and the unhappy remnants of what was an army only in name: they, meanwhile, would retain their loyalty while life lasted.

Book XV:XII Corbulo to the rescue

Corbulo, undeterred, left part of his force in Syria to man the defences positioned on the Euphrates, and headed for the region of Commagene, by the shortest route not devoid of supplies, then Cappadocia and finally Armenia. He was accompanied, over and above the usual equipment of war, by a large train of camels loaded with corn, so that he could repel hunger as well as the enemy.

The first man of the beaten army he met was the leading centurion, Paccius Orfitus, followed by a crowd of soldiers, whose various excuses for flight he answered by advising them to return to the standards, and test Paetus’ clemency, as for himself, he was implacable towards all but the victorious.

At the same time, he addressed his own legionaries, exhorting them, reminding them of their past achievements, and pointing the way toward fresh glory. The prize they sought for their efforts was not the towns and villages of Armenia, he cried, but a Roman camp and the pair of legions within. If the civic crown, for saving a Roman life, was conferred on a man by the emperor’s own hand, how much greater the honour when rescuers and rescued were seen to be equal in number!

The troops, fired with universal zeal by these words and the like (and there were those, with brothers and relatives at risk, driven by personal motive) marched at full speed day and night.

Book XV:XIII Paetus under siege

Vologeses pressed the siege with all the more vigour, now threatening the legions’ defences, now the fort which sheltered the non-combatants, venturing closer than Parthians are prone to do, to lure the enemy into battle by his seeming rashness. But they could only be drawn from their retreat with difficulty, and would only fight in defence of their fortifications, some because their general had so commanded, others from true cowardice or a desire to await Corbulo, foreseeing, if attacked in force, a defeat like those at the hands of the Samnites at Caudium (321BC) or those of the Celtiberians at Numantia (137BC); while the Samnites, an Italian people, had lacked the strength of the Parthians, rivals of imperial Rome. Even the staunch and celebrated ancients, they said, took thought for their own safety when fortune went against them.

Undermined though he was by this despondency in the ranks, Paetus still couched his first letter to Vologeses not as a petition but as a protest against the king’s waging war on the Armenian front, that country being always under Roman control, or subject to a king chosen by the emperor: peace was of benefit to both parties; he should not look wholly to the present. The king had moved against two legions with the full might of his kingdom: but Rome had a whole world in reserve, with which to support the war.

Book XV:XIV Paetus strikes a deal with Vologeses

Vologeses replied, offering nothing material, but saying that he must await his brothers, Pacorus and Tiridates, this being the place and time destined for their meeting regarding Armenia; the gods had added to this a task worthy of the House of Arsaces, that of deciding, at the same time, the fate of the Roman legions.

Messengers were then sent by Paetus seeking an audience with the king, who ordered his cavalry commander, Vasaces, to attend in his place. There, Paetus recalled Lucullus, Pompey and the various acts by which the Caesars had held Armenia or granted it to another, while Vasaces asserted that only a pretence of retention or disposal was ours, the real power lay with Parthia.

After much debate, on both sides, Monobazus of Adiabene was summoned the following day to witness what had been agreed. The result was that the blockade of the legions should be raised, the whole force withdrawn from Armenian territory, and the forts and supplies transferred to the Parthians. When all this had been concluded, an opportunity would be granted Vologeses to send envoys to Nero.

Book XV:XV Paetus builds a bridge for his enemies

In the interim, Paetus built a bridge over the river Arsanias (which flowed past the camp), ostensibly as a path of retreat, though the Parthians had insisted on it as evidence of victory; for they made use of it, our men departing in the opposite direction.

There was also a rumour that our legionaries had passed under the yoke, with other unhappy details, a version of which was adopted by the Armenians. Not only did they enter our defences before the Roman column left, but they lined the roads, identifying and dragging away slaves and baggage-animals previously captured: even clothing was snatched and weapons detained, our soldiers conceding their actions, fearful lest a pretext for hostilities emerge.

Vologeses, after gathering the corpses and weapons of the dead into a pile, as a testament to our defeat, abstained from viewing the legions’ flight: seeking a reputation for moderation, now that pride was satisfied. Mounted on an elephant, he plunged through the river Arsanias, with his close attendants in force, since a rumour had started that by its constructors’ cunning the bridge would give way beneath the Parthians’ weight: though those who dared to use it found it strong and reliable.

Book XV:XVI The defeated troops reach the Euphrates

Moreover, it is established that the besieged forces had been so well-supplied with corn, they set fire to their own granaries; while in contrast, Corbulo has written, the Parthians were about to raise the siege, through lack of supplies and dwindling forage, while he was not more than three days’ march away.

He adds that Paetus swore on oath, before the standards and in the presence of witnesses sent by the king, that not a single Roman would enter Armenia until Nero’s letter arrived assenting to peace, or not. Though this may have been written to add to the disgrace, the rest of the tale is likewise in no way hidden: that Paetus covered forty miles in a single day, abandoning his wounded along the road, and that their panic-stricken flight was no less ugly than if they had turned their backs in battle.

Corbulo, meeting them with his own force on the banks of the Euphrates, made no display of banners and weapons that might have seemed, by contrast, a reproach. The rank and file, sorrowful, and sympathetic to their comrades, could not control their tears: and the military salute could hardly be given for weeping. Rivalry in courage, and the competition for glory, strivings reserved for fortunate men, were absent: only pity held sway, most so among the lower ranks.

Book XV:XVII Stalemate with Parthia

A brief conversation between the generals ensued, Corbulo complaining that his effort had been wasted, the war might have been settled by their putting the Parthians to flight: Paetus replying that the situation for both was unchanged: they had but to turn their eagles about, and invade Armenia together, now weakened by Vologeses withdrawal.

Corbulo said he had no such mandate from the emperor: he had only left his province moved by the danger to the legions; and since Parthia’s intent was uncertain, he would return to Syria: praying, as things were, that fortune was also at her kindest, if his infantry, exhausted by their long marches, were overtaken by horsemen on the alert, who were easily capable of outstripping them on the plain.

Paetus left for winter quarters in Cappadocia: Vologeses sent envoys to Corbulo proposing that the Romans withdraw their guard-posts beyond the Euphrates, and make the river the dividing line as before. Corbulo demanded that Armenia should be cleared of various defences also: and the king, ultimately, conceded. Corbulo demolished what he had constructed beyond the Euphrates, and the Armenians were left without a ruler.

Book XV:XVIII Nero abandons truth for appearance

Meanwhile in Rome, memorials of victory over the Parthians were being erected, and arches in the centre of the Capitoline Hill, all having been decreed by the Senate while the war was ongoing, and which were not abandoned now, truth being ignored in favour of appearances. Indeed, to hide his own anxiety as to the situation abroad, Nero had old grain, which had spoiled, thrown into the Tiber to show that there were no fears for the corn-supply. Nor was the price raised, though some two hundred vessels had been wrecked in harbour by a violent storm, and a hundred more which had navigated upriver were destroyed on the Tiber by a chance fire.

He appointed three men of consular rank, Lucius Piso, Ducenius Geminus and Pompeius Paulinus to supervise State revenues, coupled to his criticism of previous emperors whose heavy expenditure had exceeded statutory income: he himself endowing the State with six hundred thousand gold pieces a year.

Book XV:XIX A ruling against temporary adoption

At that time there was a widespread custom whereby close to an election, or the assignment of provinces by lot, childless candidates procured themselves sons by temporary adoption. Then, once qualified as a father, after obtaining a praetorship or governorship they immediately freed those they had adopted from the arrangement.

Many genuine heads of families, jealous of their status, approached the Senate, spelling out their natural rights, and the effort of raising a child, as against these fraudulent, calculated and ephemeral adoptions. The childless, they said, were amply compensated, in that, without care or responsibility, they had influence, office, everything ready to hand. Their own long-established expectation, as promised at law, turned to a mockery when becoming a parent without a thought, then childless again without bereavement, could in a moment grant a man the same status as genuine fathers with long-cherished hopes.

A Senate decree was therefore enacted ruling that public office should not, in any circumstances, be granted to those employing temporary adoption, nor should they benefit by acquiring an inheritance of any kind.

Book XV:XX The trial of Claudius Timarchus

Now Claudius Timarchus, the Cretan, was put on trial, the charges being those common in the case of provincial magistrates, with wealth excessive enough that they could browbeat those of lesser estate, except for one remark of his that had gone so far as to constitute an insult to the Senate. He was reported to have claimed it was in his power whether or not to offer thanks to the proconsuls who had been administering Crete.

Turning the occasion to the benefit of the State, Thrasea Paetus, on stating his opinion that the defendant should be exiled from Crete, added this: ‘Senators Elect, experience has shown that amongst the virtuous excellent laws and honest examples have been derived from the sins of others. Thus the licence adopted by advocates led to the Cincian rogation; bribery by candidates to the Julian laws; the greed shown by officials to the Calpurnian decree; for, in the course of time, a crime must be recognized as such before its punishment can be devised, and reform must follow its recognition as an offence.

 Let us, therefore, counter this new example of provincial arrogance with a decision worthy of our Roman honour and firmness, in no way detracting from the security of our allies, while disabusing ourselves of the idea that a Roman’s reputation depends on anything other than his fellow-citizens’ judgement.’

Book XV:XXI Thrasea Paetus argues for the prohibition of votes of thanks

‘Once we sent not only a praetor or consul but private citizens themselves to inspect the provinces and report on how loyal each one appeared, and whole nations trembled at the judgement of a single individual. But now we court foreigners and flatter them, and just as thanks are decreed at a nod from one or other of them, so even more readily is an accusation.

Well, let those things be theirs to decree; leave to the provinces the right to show their power in that way: only let false praise elicited by entreaty be stifled, as malice or cruelty are. We often err more when we act obligingly than when we offend. Indeed there are virtues that rouse hatred, for example undeviating strictness, and a mind uninfluenced by gratitude.

Hence, the early days of a governorship are usually the best, and the last a decline, where we search for votes as candidates do: if that were halted, the provinces would be ruled more equably and more consistently. For as greed is restrained for fear of the extortion laws, so would prohibiting decrees of thanks stop this canvassing for votes.’

Book XV:XXII An earthquake at Pompeii

His proposal was greeted with loud assent, but it was still not possible to issue a Senate decree, the consuls refusing a vote on the matter. Later, at the emperor’s suggestion, it was ordained that no one should propose, at provincial council, that a vote of thanks be given in the Senate to a propraetor or proconsular governor, nor should anyone undertake such a mission.

In the same consulate (AD62), the Gymnasium was struck by lightning and burned to the ground; a statue of Nero, within, being melted to shapeless bronze. An earthquake also largely destroyed the densely-populated Campanian town of Pompeii.

Also, the Vestal Virgin Laelia died, and was replaced by Cornelia of the Cossi family.

Book XV:XXIII The birth of Nero’s daughter Claudia Augusta, and her early death

In the consulate of Memmius Regulus and Verginius Rufus (AD63), Nero greeted a daughter, born to him by Poppaea, with a delight more than human, and named her Augusta, granting Poppaea the same title. The place of birth was the colony at Antium (Anzio), where he himself had been born.

The Senate had already commended Poppaea’s labour to the gods, and offered vows on behalf of the State, which were now redoubled and discharged. Public thanksgivings were added, and a Temple of Fertility decreed, together with a contest on the lines of the festival commemorating Actium (31BC), and golden effigies of the two Goddesses of Fortune (Fortunae Antiates) to be placed on the throne of Capitoline Jove; while Circus Games, such as those held for the Julian House at Bovillae, were to be performed for the Claudian and Domitian Houses at Antium.

Yet all this was ephemeral, as the infant died within four months. Fresh forms of adulation then appeared, she being voted the honour of deification, a place on the sacred couch (pulvinar), a temple, and a priest. The emperor showed himself as immoderate in his grief as in his joy.

It was also noted that when the whole Senate had streamed towards Antium shortly after the birth, Thrasea, who was forbidden from attending, accepted the slight, prophetic of his impending execution, without emotion. It was followed by a comment from Nero, boasting to Seneca that he was reconciled to Thrasea, upon which Seneca congratulated him: which increased the reputation of, and the risk to, both those eminent men.

Book XV:XXIV Vologeses sends a provocative message to Nero

Meanwhile, at the start of spring, Parthian envoys brought a message from King Vologeses, and a letter to the same effect: that he was now relinquishing his prior and oft-asserted claim to the possession of Armenia, since the gods, arbiters of the power of nations, had now transferred control to Parthia, and not without ignominy on the part of Rome.

He had recently besieged Tigranes, he said, and had then let Paetus and his legions depart unscathed, when he might have crushed them. He had shown his power sufficiently; and displayed an example of his leniency. Tiridates, for his part, would not have declined to visit Rome to receive his diadem, were he not detained by the strictures of his priesthood. He would, instead, go to meet the standards and images of the emperor, so that his reign might be inaugurated in the legions’ presence.

Book XV:XXV Nero renews the war

Given this letter from Vologeses, and the fact of Paetus having written to the contrary, as if the situation was still unchanged, the centurion who had arrived with the envoys was interrogated as to the state of affairs in Armenia, and replied that all the Romans had afterwards departed the country.

Recognising now the derision implicit in the barbarians demanding what they had already taken by force, Nero consulted with the foremost citizens as to the choice of a dangerous war or a dishonourable peace. There was no hesitation as to war. And Corbulo, with years of experience regarding the troops and the enemy, was placed in charge of the campaign, lest, given the irritation with Paetus, by appointing some other general, offence might again be caused through incompetence.

The token envoys were therefore sent home, yet with gifts, to create the expectation that if Tiridates were to bring the same request himself, his words would not be in vain. The administration of Syria was given to Gaius Cestius, its military forces to Corbulo with the addition of the Fifteenth legion from Pannonia, led by Marius Celsus. The tetrarchs, kings, prefects, procurators and praetors governing neighbouring provinces received written instructions to obey Corbulo’s orders, his authority being raised almost to the level the Roman people granted Pompey to conduct his war against piracy.

When Paetus arrived home, fearing the worst, Nero was content to reprimand him facetiously, in almost these very words: that he was pardoning him with immediate effect, lest being so prone to panic he were made ill by prolonged suspense.

Book XV:XXVI Corbulo gathers his forces

Meanwhile, Corbulo transferred the Fourth and Twelfth legions, who appeared incapable of active service through the loss of their bravest men and the demoralisation of the rest, to Syria, from which he led the Sixth and Third legions, their numbers intact and trained to frequent and successful action, into Armenia. He added the Fifth legion, which stationed in Pontus, had escaped the disaster; men of the Fifteenth recently assembled; picked troops from Illyricum and Egypt; the whole of the allied cavalry and infantry; and the auxiliaries of the minor kings, concentrated on Melitene (Malatya, Turkey), where he was about to cross the Euphrates.

After the usual act of purification (lustration), he summoned the army, and began his address to them with a florid reference to the emperor’s power and his own exploits, attributing the defeat to Paetus’ incompetence, all delivered with great authority which in a military man passed for eloquence.

Book XV:XXVII Peace overtures

Soon he took the road by which Lucullus had once penetrated (69BC), clearing whatever time had obstructed. And on the appearance of envoys from Vologeses and Tiridates seeking peace, rather than scorning them he sent a few centurions with them on their return bearing conciliatory messages: saying that things were not yet such that all-out war was necessary. Many victories had accrued to Rome, one in particular to Parthia, a lesson against over-confidence. Therefore it was in Tiridates’ interest to accept as a gift a kingdom as yet free of devastation, and better for Vologeses to consult the interests of the Parthian people through alliance with Rome, rather than through mutual injury.

Simultaneously, he added terror to persuasion, expelling those Armenian notables from their homes who had first defected from us, razing their fortresses, inspiring the same fear on plain and mountain, in strong and weak, alike.

Book XV:XXVIII Corbulo meets with Tiridates

Corbulo’s name was not regarded by the barbarians themselves with any degree of hostility or hatred as an enemy, and therefore they thought his advice trustworthy. So Vologeses, without seeming inexorable on the main issue, sought a truce in certain prefectures: Tiridates seeking meanwhile a place and time to meet.

The date was to be soon, the place preferred by the barbarians being the scene of their recent siege of Paetus and the legions, in commemoration of their success there. Corbulo was not averse to this, as enhancing his glory through the generals’ contrasting fortunes. Nor had he any qualms about shaming Paetus, as can clearly be seen by the fact that he ordered Paetus’ son, a tribune, to take a few detachments and bury the relics of the unfortunate confrontation.

On the appointed day, Tiberius Alexander, a leading Roman knight, who had been appointed to assist the campaign, and Annius Vinicianus, Corbulo’s son-in-law, not yet of senatorial age, and acting legate of the Fifth, went to Tiridates’ camp, out of respect for him and as a pledge against any fear of treachery; both parties were then accompanied by twenty mounted men. On seeing Corbulo, the king was first to leap from his horse; nor was Corbulo slow to follow, and approaching on foot they clasped hands.

Book XV:XXIX Tiridates proposes to seek ratification from Nero

The Roman general next praised this youth who had rejected rashness for the safe and salutary course. Tiridates, after a long preamble regarding the nobility of his House, continued, with a display of moderation: saying that he would certainly go to Rome, bringing Caesar new honour, an Arsacid as suppliant, though Parthia was undefeated.

It was then agreed that Tiridates would lay his royal insignia before Caesar’s statue, only to receive it again from Nero’s hand; and the dialogue ended with an embrace. Then, after an interval of a few days, with great splendour on both sides, there the Parthian cavalry squadrons assembled, bearing their national insignia, here the ranks of legionaries, amidst a glitter of eagles, standards and effigies of the gods, as if in a temple: while in the centre, the tribunal supported a curule chair, and that chair a statue of Nero.

To this, Tiridates progressed, and after the customary killing of sacrificial beasts, lifted the diadem from his head and placed it at the statue’s feet, stirring deep emotions in all present, augmented by the image still imprinted on their minds of the siege and slaughter of a Roman army. Yet now the situation was reversing: Tiridates would depart to become a spectacle for nations, and in what degree other than that of captive?

Tiridates receives the crown of Armenia from Nero

‘Tiridates receives the crown of Armenia from Nero’
Ludwig Gottlieb Portman, after Reinier Vinkeles (I), 1804
The Rijksmuseum

Book XV:XXX Corbulo gives a banquet for Tiridates

Corbulo added the courtesy of a banquet to his glory; and whenever the king noticed some feature new to him, and enquired as to its purpose, for instance the centurion announcing the start of a watch, the dismissal of a company by a bugle-note, or the firing of the altar in front of the general’s pavilion with a torch, Corbulo extolled each item to the highest degree in order to rouse admiration for our ancient traditions.

The next day, Tiridates requested time to visit his brothers and mother before undertaking so long a journey: meanwhile he left behind his daughter as hostage, and a letter petitioning Nero.

Book XV:XXXI Vologeses insists on Tiridates being given full recognition

He then met with his brothers, finding Pacorus II in the latter’s kingdom, Media Atropatene, and Vologeses at Ecbatana (Hamadan, Iran), the latter being far from inattentive to him: indeed he had asked of Corbulo, by special messenger, that Tiridates should not be forced to carry any tokens of subservience, or surrender his sabre, or be prevented from embracing the provincial governors, or be left standing at doorways, and that he should when in Rome receive every honour granted to a consul.

Clearly, accustomed to Oriental displays of pride, he lacked familiarity with ourselves, who value the power of sovereignty and ignore the trappings.

Book XV:XXXII The knights are assigned seats in the Circus Maximus

In that same year (AD63), Nero granted the tribes in the Maritime Alps the Latin privilege (of partial citizenship).

He also assigned seats in the Circus Maximus to the Roman knights, immediately in front of the ordinary rows; since, up till that time, they had sat anywhere, the provisions of the Roscian law applying only to their ‘fourteen rows’ in the theatres.

That year witnessed a number of gladiatorial shows, equal in magnificence to their predecessors, though even more noblewomen and senators brought shame on themselves in the arena.

End of the Annals Book XV: I-XXXII