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Mariners commit the craso error, lose 2-0

In which the Mariners are vanquished in an open field

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

In the year 53 B.C.E., the Roman governor and general Marcus Licinius Crassus crossed the Euphrates river and invaded Parthia. Crassus was one third of the so-called first triumvirate, an informal political alliance between himself, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, and Gaius Julius Caesar. The latter two were famed generals in their own right, while Crassus controlled vast wealth. He was eternally jealous of Pompey, however, and longed for a great military victory to his name.

Which is why he invaded Parthia immediately upon becoming the governor of Syria. Always thirsty for more wealth, Parthia’s integration to the republic would have brought gold, both to the Roman treasury and to Crassus himself. His force of 7 legions, 40,000 soldiers, should have been enough for a successful campaign.

He could have had more, though. The king of Armenia, a neighbor to both Roman Syria and Parthia offered Crassus another 40,000 men (including 10,000 elite calvary), and an alternative, safer route to Parthia. By cutting north through the mountains of Armenia, Crassus would be able to keep his men supplied by marching through friendly territory, double his army, and avoid the threat of facing the dreaded Parthian cavalry on an open field. Victory was handed to him. And he refused. Crassus was insulted, even, by the suggestion.

Jeff Passan, Dec. 14, 2022. In fairness, he did later apologize.

Crassus, misled by his advisors, believed the Parthian army to be weak and disorganized. The year before, he had marched on a short, but successful campaign in western Parthia, and captured numerous Hellenic cities without a major engagement or difficulty. The Parthian army was nowhere in sight.

End of 2022

That was about to change, however. The Parthian army, it turned out, was not a disorganized mess, but instead was gathering strength and planning for the next war season. When Crassus crossed the Euphrates in 53 B.C.E., they were ready for him.

The Texas Rangers are averaging the 4th best runs allowed per game...
...and the best overall runs scored per game.

Near the town of Carrhae in Mesopotamia Crassus finally encountered the Parthian army. They met in an open desert plain far from any water. Crassus’ 7 legions outnumbered the Parthians 4:1, but the Parthian army was almost entirely cavalry. To counter cavalry, the Romans would typically deploy in a long, thin line. With their numbers advantage, this would mean that the Parthians would have to spread their forces so thin as to minimize their strength and it would be impossible to flank and surround the Romans. Instead, Crassus had his men deploy in a square formation with their shields facing out and up. This would protect the soldiers from most of the Partian arrows, but it completely ceded the initiative to Parthia, while all Crassus could do was sit in the middle of the field.

Stuck in the middle, just happy to be above .500

Crassus had hoped to be able to sit in his square and wait out the Parthian archers’ attack. They only had so many arrows, of course, and soldiers in the ancient world would typically run out of arrows in just a few minutes. But as time wore on, and minutes stretched into hours, the hail of Parthian arrows continued to rain down on the Roman square. The Parthians had brought camel riders to support the archers, and each camel was loaded down with thousands of arrows. The Parthians would not run out of ammunition.

The Romans were protected by being in their testudo formation, the entire army covering itself in shields like a great tortoise. In this formation, they were mostly protected from incoming arrows, but some were getting through. Some legionnaires were being shot in the feet and hands through the tiny gaps in the shields. The onus was on the Romans to act first or else they would die from 100,000 paper cuts. Things were becoming dire.

Crassus sent out his son, Publius, with a legion and the few cavalry that the Romans had to break through the surrounding Parthians. When the counter-attack appeared, the Parthians initially pulled back. And they kept pulling back. And kept pulling back. To Publius, it seemed like the Parthian army was in complete rout, and he kept chasing them. Eventually, they had chased the fleeing Parthians that the main Roman force was out of sight. All the while, the Parthians kept up a barrage of arrows, turning 180 degrees on their horses and firing backwards. This techniche, called the Parthian shot, was part of what made their cavalry so dangerous. Eventually, a new group of Parthians came in from the sides, and completely surrounded Publius’ detachment. It was a total disaster, and Publius, along with 5,000 Romans, was killed. It was the beginning of the end.

Crassus found out about his son’s death near sundown, and when the sun finally set, the Parthians simply left. Through the night, Crassus was inconsolable due to his son’s death, and his lieutenants took command. Marching through the night and leaving many wounded behind, the shattered remains of the army managed to limp into the walls of Carrhae.

I don’t have a pithy image or video for this part, but Ty, Julio, Teoscar, and Mike Ford all hit the ball hard, with the last three picking up a base hit each. Obliviously it wasn’t enough, but it is important to look for the positive things.

At this point, the battle was already over. The Parthians arrived and made overtures to negotiate with Crassus. When they met outside the city walls, the Parthian general, Surena, insisted that Crassus mount a horse with a gaudy, obnoxious gold bridle, meant to mock the Roman for his greed. The Parthian attended holding the horse then sent it to run back and forth erratically. Crassus was thrown from the horse and wounded. Another Parthian came up and killed him. Mocking his wealth one last time, some sources say that the Parthians poured molten gold down his mouth to satisfy his “thirst for wealth.”

Crassus’ refusal to accept the Armenian king’s offer at the start of the campaign has become shorthand for blunder in several languages. In Spanish, for example, error craso is used to describe an obvious and disastrous mistake. The Armenian king was slighted by the refusal, and the kingdom of Armenia slowly slipped from Rome’s sphere of influence to Parthia’s. Mark Antony would try to invade Parthia 17 years later, and he too would be defeated, despite escaping with his life. It would not be until emperor Trajan, motivated to finally reclaim control of Armenia in 115 C.E., that Parthia would be defeated by Rome. Crassus’ defeat set Rome’s eastern expansion back by 160 years.

So then, if the error craso is so obvious and ubiquitous, why do we see it being repeated today, from important things that we don’t care about, like eco-politics, to the stupid things that we do, like baseball? Are human beings predisposed towards foolishness? Is accepting help that hard?

The Mariners need help. They need bats, desperately. Just as the Roman heavy infantry was useless against the Parthian cavalry, one of the best rotations by runs allowed is useless against serious lineups. The Mariners’ front office need to find their Armenian king unless they want to become the latest in a long line of Crassi.