As the year 57 turned into 58, the decades-long struggle between Rome and Parthia over the control of Armenia heightened in intensity. At that time, Parthia had the advantage in the struggle, as the reigning king of Armenia was Tiridates, brother of the Parthian king, Vologeses I. Nevertheless, according to the historian, Tacitus (c. 56-117+), the Armenian people were still divided over which empire they wanted as their overlord, and individual settlements had their own independent preferences.
With Parthian support, Tiridates began raiding the regions of his country that he thought favored Rome. The Roman governor of Syria, a man named Cnaeus Domitius Corbulo, mobilized his own forces to halt the Parthian raids, but he could not move quick enough to trap Tiridates in a battle. As his original scheme was unsuccessful, Corbulo called in his allies to increase pressure on the Parthian-Armenian forces. In particular, King Antiochus Epiphanes IV of Commagene and King Pharasmanes of Iberia answered the governor’s summons and supported the campaign.
This increased pressure brought Tiridates into negotiation with the Roman governor. A meeting was scheduled to discuss peace. Yet, even though the two allegedly camped close enough to see each other, no conversation ever occurred. When diplomacy failed, Governor Corbulo then turned his attention to launching a major offensive against the Parthian-Armenian homeland.
Governor Corbulo came up with a plan to simultaneously besiege three Parthian-controlled border forts in Armenia. Corbulo personally led the attack on Volandum, the strongest of the three. Tacitus claimed to know the governor’s battle plan for the siege. The historian wrote that the governor split his troops into four sections. One group was sent to sieze the fortress’ ramparts and clear obstructions. Two other groups harassed the defenders with siege engines, javelins and slings. The final group charged the fortress and scaled the enemy walls with ladders. Using this approach, Governor Corbulo was said to have seized the fortification of Volandum in about eight hours. The other two fortresses, besieged by Roman forces, also fell that same day.
After the fall of the fortresses, Corbulo began marching toward Artaxata, the capital of Armenia. Tiridates attempted to ambush the Roman forces, but his attack failed. When the governor’s forces reached Artaxata, the city surrendered. Unfortunately, fearing that he could not adequately garrison the city, Governor Corbulo decided to burn Artaxata to the ground.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Roman siege of Jerusalem, image produced c. 1921, published in a book by William Ambrose Spicer, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Annals of Imperial Rome by Tacitus, translated by Michael Grant. New York: Penguin Classics, 1996.