Conflicts With The Nabataeans

No like successes could be boasted of against the Nabataeans. King Aretas had indeed, yielding to the desire of the Romans, evacuated Judaea; but Damascus was still in his hands, and the Nabataean land had not yet been trodden by any Roman soldier. To subdue that region or at least to show to their new neighbours in Arabia that the Roman eagles were now dominant on the Orontes and on the Jordan, and that the time had gone by when any one was free to levy contributions in the Syrian lands as a domain without a master, Pompeius began in 691 an expedition against Petra; but detained by the revolt of the Jews, which broke out during this expedition, he was not reluctant to leave to his successor Marcus Scaurus the carrying out of the difficult enterprise against the Nabataean city situated far off amidst the desert.(18) In reality Scaurus also soon found himself compelled to return without having accomplished his object. He had to content himself with making war on the Nabataeans in the deserts on the left bank of the Jordan, where he could lean for support on the Jews, but yet bore off only very trifling successes. Ultimately the adroit Jewish minister Antipater from Idumaea persuaded Aretas to purchase a guarantee for all his possessions, Damascus included, from the Roman governor for a sum of money; and this is the peace celebrated on the coins of Scaurus, where king Aretas appears--leading his camel-- as a suppliant offering the olive branch to the Roman.

Difficulty With The Parthians

Far more fraught with momentous effects than these new relations of the Romans to the Armenians, Iberians, Bosporans, and Nabataeans was the proximity into which through the occupation of Syria they were brought with the Parthian state. Complaisant as had been the demeanour of Roman diplomacy towards Phraates while the Pontic and Armenian states still subsisted, willingly as both Lucullus and Pompeius had then conceded to him the possession of the regions beyond the Euphrates,(19) the new neighbour now sternly took up his position by the side of the Arsacids; and Phraates, if the royal art of forgetting his own faults allowed him, might well recall now the warning words of Mithradates that the Parthian by his alliance with the Occidentals against the kingdoms of kindred race paved the way first for their destruction and then for his own. Romans and Parthians in league had brought Armenia to ruin; when it was overthrown, Rome true to her old policy now reversed the parts and favoured the humbled foe at the expense of the powerful ally. The singular preference, which the father Tigranes experienced from Pompeius as contrasted with his son the ally and son-in-law of the Parthian king, was already part of this policy; it was a direct offence, when soon afterwards by the orders of Pompeius the younger Tigranes and his family were arrested and were not released even on Phraates interceding with the friendly general for his daughter and his son-in-law. But Pompeius paused not here. The province of Corduene, to which both Phraates and Tigranes laid claim, was at the command of Pompeius occupied by Roman troops for the latter, and the Parthians who were found in possession were driven beyond the frontier and pursued even as far as Arbela in Adiabene, without the government of Ctesiphon having even been previously heard (689). Far the most suspicious circumstance however was, that the Romans seemed not at all inclined to respect the boundary of the Euphrates fixed by treaty. On several occasions Roman divisions destined from Armenia for Syria marched across Mesopotamia; the Arab emir Abgarus of Osrhoene was received under singularly favourable conditions into Roman protection; nay, Oruros, situated in Upper Mesopotamia somewhere between Nisibis and the Tigris 220 miles eastward from the Commagenian passage of the Euphrates, was designated as the eastern limit of the Roman dominion-- presumably their indirect dominion, inasmuch as the larger and more fertile northern half of Mesopotamia had been assigned by the Romans in like manner with Corduene to the Armenian empire. The boundary between Romans and Parthians thus became the great Syro-Mesopotamian desert instead of the Euphrates; and this too seemed only provisional. To the Parthian envoys, who came to insist on the maintenance of the agreements--which certainly, as it would seem, were only concluded orally--respecting the Euphrates boundary, Pompeius gave the ambiguous reply that the territory of Rome extended as far as her rights. The remarkable intercourse between the Roman commander-in-chief and the Parthian satraps of the region of Media and even of the distant province Elymais (between Susiana, Media, and Persia, in the modern Luristan) seemed a commentary on this speech.(20) The viceroys of this latter mountainous, warlike, and remote land had always exerted themselves to acquire a position independent of the great-king; it was the more offensive and menacing to the Parthian government, when Pompeius accepted the proffered homage of this dynast. Not less significant was the fact that the title of "king of kings," which had been hitherto conceded to the Parthian king by the Romans in official intercourse, was now all at once exchanged by them for the simple title of king. This was even more a threat than a violation of etiquette. Since Rome had entered on the heritage of the Seleucids, it seemed almost as if the Romans had a mind to revert at a convenient moment to those old times, when all Iran and Turan were ruled from Antioch, and there was as yet no Parthian empire but merely a Parthian satrapy. The court of Ctesiphon would thus have had reason enough for going to war with Rome; it seemed the prelude to its doing so, when in 690 it declared war on Armenia on account of the question of the frontier. But Phraates had not the courage to come to an open rupture with the Romans at a time when the dreaded general with his strong army was on the borders of the Parthian empire.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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