Page 0388


established on the eastern borders of the Empire. But they could never be completely at

rest in such situations; for their supplies were constantly endangered by the ceaseless

vigilance of the Parthian horsemen. Whenever communications could be cut off, it became

simply a question of time when the Romans must come forth and take the hazards of the open

field in a movement towards the base of supplies. Such retreats were nearly always fatal.

The Parthians, whenever they perceived a movement of the kind, were on the alert. No

straggler henceforth escaped. On both wings and the rear of the receding army a cloud of

warriors might be seen hovering in the horizon, and a single misstep of the retreating

forces was sufficient to effect their ruin.

Another feature of the Parthian warfare was the absence of chariots and vehicles of all

kinds. Those who could not ride must walk. In general, it might be said that the whole

force was mounted on either horses or camels. In rare instances members of the royal

household, the women and others, were borne after the army in chariots. Sometimes the

ponderous bulk of an elephant was seen; but this generally marked the presence of the

monarch or the generalissimo. These important personages were sometimes made conspicuous,

as well as secure, by having their station on the backs of trained elephants. In rare

cases camels were used by the cavalry in actual battle; but the Greeks and Romans learned

that these beasts could be easily disabled by sowing tribuli, or iron stars, in the way of

their spongy feet.

In the Parthian manner battle was made with as much noise as possible. The army was

accompanied with its musicians, or clamor-makers, who in time of the onset beat upon metal

drums, which resounded over the plains, and was answered by the wild shouts of the

horsemen as they rushed to the onset. The charge, as we have said, was at full speed. The

oncoming of the flying squadrons was so rapid that they seemed to the Romans to rise out

of the earth. As soon as the charge had broken upon the legions, the horsemen, if

unsuccessful, fled, as we have seen; but in doing so, fired backwards. Nor were the enemy

able to perceive any diminution in the shower of arrows until the receding column was out

of reach.

Out of the nature of things war brings cessation, and finally armistice and treaty. These

things require formalities. Since war was the mood of antiquity, rules for formal

intercourse between belligerents were devised at an early day. The Parthians had a well-

regulated ceremonial of the field and for military conferences. It was the custom, when

they desired to confer with an enemy, to go forward in full sight with unstrung bows. This

signified a desire to communicate with the enemy. The right hand was stretched out towards

the opposing camp, to signify the wish for a parley. When the preliminaries of the

conference had thus been arranged, the formal representatives of the two powers were wont

to come together on some neutral ground, as on a bridge spanning some boundary stream, and

there discuss the terms of settlement. Under such circumstances treaties were made. Nor

could it be said that the Parthians were less faithful in the observance of stipulations

to which they had agreed than were the Greeks and Romans. From the former of these

peoples, who in the times of Alexander had established themselves and planted their

civilization in many cities, old and new, throughout the East, the Parthians had acquired

a knowledge of the Greek tongue, and this for several centuries was used as the medium of

civil and military intercourse between them and the nations of the West.

It was a mistaken view of the subject to consider the Parthian administration in the times

of the Empire as a government of barbarous principles and methods. On the contrary, it

became as well refined as the contemporaneous governments which had in the meantime been

established by the European Aryans. The forms of intercourse were regular and enlightened.

Embassies were sent by the Parthian monarchs to foreign courts, and such were received in

turn at the Parthian capitals. It was the custom of the times to send by the hands of

international commissioners presents from king to king as seemed befitting to the age and

condition. In none