Book Review: Rome, Parthia, and the Politics of Peace: The Origins of War in the Ancient Middle East


by Jason M. Schlude

New York: Routledge, 2020. Pp. xvi, 222. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $160.00. ISBN: 0815353707

The Complexities of Romano-Parthian Relations

Anyone who has read much in ancient history knows of the seemingly interminable series of wars between Rome and Parthia, a chapter in a supposed aeons-long “Clash of Civilizations” between “East” and “West” that continues to the present. Yet this new work by Prof. Schlude (Saint Benedict & Saint John’s), is the first to offer an analytical, even-handed examination of the relationship between the two ancient super powers.

Schlude offers much that is surprising here. For example, in a remarkably insightful observation, he notes that despite the received wisdom, the two empires were at peace more often than not over the centuries (c. 95 BC – AD 225) during which they were in contact. That is not to say that they were not rivals and often enemies, but at times they were partners, such as when third parties, such as King Mithridates VI of Pontus, threatened their mutual interests. Naturally conflict could also arise over legitimate interests, such as control of Armenia, domination of which by one empire always posed a potential threat to the other, or due to the ambitions of particular individuals seeking glory, such as Marcus Licinius Cassius Dives, or because internal disorder in one empire was too tempting to the other.

Schlude observes that even when one side seemed to have gained an overwhelming edge (e.g., the Romans taking Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital, or the Parthians taking Antioch, Rome’s principal city in the East), geography and perhaps over-extension, made such seemingly decisive successes transitory.

While Schlude rejects “Clash of Civilizations” rhetoric, he does touch on Roman relations with the later Sassanid Persians (c. 225-632), the successors to the Parthians, and takes the story of “East-West” relations in the region down to the present, if only because much punditry revolves around it.

Rome, Parthia, and the Politics of Peace, a volume in the Routledge series “Studies in Ancient History”, is an excellent read for anyone interested in ancient history, and perhaps also for students of international relations.


Note: Rome, Parthia, and the Politics of Peace is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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