Customer Reviews


9 Reviews
5 star:
 (2)
4 star:
 (4)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:
 (1)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crassus, beyond the one dimensional view
In the Kubrick film Spartacus, Laurence Olivier plays the role of Marcus Licinius Crassus. He did a fine job, the veneer of a patrician hiding the ruthlessness of a consummate politician. You want to know more. Yet in Roman history, Crassus tends to be marginalised, merely a man obsessed by wealth brought down by his pursuit of glory. His military incompetence led to one...
Published on 23 Jun 2008 by Benjamin Girth

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist history at its best and worst?
This is a very interesting, and at times fascinating book about the Roman disaster at Carrhae and the death of Crassus, arguably the most powerful member of the first triumvirate (the other two being Pompey and Caesar) in 53 BC at the hands of the Parthians commanded by Surena.

To begin with (and although most of the source discussion is pushed back into an...
Published 14 months ago by JPS


Most Helpful First | Newest First

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Crassus, beyond the one dimensional view, 23 Jun 2008
By 
Benjamin Girth "NI5 MCR" (Hampstead N6) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East (Hardcover)
In the Kubrick film Spartacus, Laurence Olivier plays the role of Marcus Licinius Crassus. He did a fine job, the veneer of a patrician hiding the ruthlessness of a consummate politician. You want to know more. Yet in Roman history, Crassus tends to be marginalised, merely a man obsessed by wealth brought down by his pursuit of glory. His military incompetence led to one of Rome's worst defeats at the Battle of Carrhae in 53BC. A year later Julius Caesar, whose career Crassus had propelled with money and influence, achieved the astonishing victory at Alesia. Caesar fought and won against a massively larger Gallic army, Crassus's legions were virtually wiped out by a Parthian force a quarter of their size. His reputation has not been flattered by time.

Sampson's pleasing book gives a picture of Crassus. It is not a biography but a background sketch to put the battle in context. He was born to a very wealthy ruling family that held the high offices, and excelled in a world where failure would often result in death. His father and two brothers were killed or committed suicide running foul of political enemies. That would certainly make him a man who took politics seriously. His reputation was tainted by greed, he benefited financially from proscription, and as an unscrupulous property developer. He was an extraordinary manipulator, a breeder of pedigree politicians. He was perhaps Rome's greatest patron. The formation and workings of the triumvirate are largely passed over, the big beasts (he, Pompey and Caesar) found it possible to work together rather than tear each other apart. Why did Crassus go to war having attained hegemony over the Roman republic? The assumption is he wanted a triumph and that required a significant foreign military victory. He had just reached 60 so time was against him.

Sampson traces the origins of Rome as it emerged as an Empire concentrating on the East, the numerous wars; arguably defensive Imperialism propelled Rome as the Hellenic world faded. He compares Rome with the rise of Parthia, boths progress being interrupted by relentless civil wars. A recurrent theme in the book is the imbalance in perception, we know so much more about Rome because they left so much more whereas Parthia was its equal but whose history has been largely eradicated or lost.

Dr Sampson's style is to present the facts, make deductions and produce a logical commentary. His thesis is that Crassus was far from an incompetent general; he had a proven military record saving Sulla and in defeating Spartacus. In his Parthian campaign, his generalship was as good as possible; he did the correct things in the right order. Rather it was the brilliance of his opponent, Surenas, who was meant to be an expendable decoy yet proved a devastating tactician. He used mobile armoured cavalry (with the well planned provision of lethally effective arrows) to engineer a turkey shoot. Simply they neutralised the close quarter fighting superiority of the Roman army. Any commander would have been so exposed. Well, perhaps. In trying to negotiate surrender, on the second day of the battle Crassus was killed. Dr Sampson goes on to analyse the immediate and longer-term consequences of the defeat. Surprisingly relevant to how the West and the East try to co exist today.

If a good book is one that sends you back to the bookshop for more, then this is one. It is certainly time for a new biography of Crassus. Let's hope some commissioning editors are likeminded.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thorough examination of the pivotal Battle of Carrhae!, 10 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East (Hardcover)
From first page to last, Sampson crafts a readable account of the 53BC campaign, sifting the bits and pieces of info from surviving manuscripts and archaeological findings and mixing in his own analysis. Separating and reconciling the different ancient versions of the campaign is also quite enlightening. The analysis of the Roman Army and the Parthian Army -- especially about Surenas' decision on the types of units to include in the Parthian force sent to intercept Crassus -- offers brevity and insight.

Few books devote more than a passing mention, or perhaps a chapter, about the campaign and battle. But as Sampson notes, the battle resulted in a stalled eastward expansion of Rome and the elimination of the triumvirs out of the political picture. And fewer still provide the detail about the Parthians that this one does.

If you have any interest in the late Republic period of Rome, The Defeat of Rome in the East offers a competent treatment of Crassus and the crushing defeat that altered Roman history. Recommended.
The perfect companion to this excellent work is THE ROMA VICTRIX wine beakerCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ignore the two star review by 'bskeptic', 31 July 2013
By 
Ben Kane (Nr Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've been driven to write this review by the poor 'review' left by 'bskeptic'. I say review, when in fact it's not. Mr Bruce (bskeptic's name) wrote his piece because he was annoyed that this volume was a textbook, not a novel. D'oh! If he'd bothered reading the description, he would have noted that it was not a work of fiction. I wonder if he's even actually read it. In any event, it's entirely unfair to leave a poor 'review' on this basis.

I have read Sampson's text, and it's excellent. I'm just sorry that it didn't come out sooner than it did, because by the time it was published, I'd already written my first novel, The Forgotten Legion, which concerns Crassus' disastrous campaign into Parthia. If I'd had this book to hand as a textbook, my life would have been made far easier than it was.

There is precious little information on what happened to Crassus' army at Carrhae in 53 BC, but Sampson does a very good job in setting the scene, describing the ancient world at the time, and Crassus' reasons for wanting to lead an invasion in his 60s. His descriptions of the campaign, and the battle itself are evocative and well-written, and his epilogue - about what happened afterwards, and the consequences of Carrhae - is also good. In short, if you are interested in the Roman Republic of the mid-first century BC, and in Crassus, who was a co-ruler with Julius Caesar until his death, you need to read this text.

Ben Kane, author of The Forgotten Legion and Spartacus.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different perspective., 28 Oct 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East (Hardcover)
I enjoy reading popular history titles on ancient Greece and Rome, especially when written about the turbulent last days of the Republic. This title is definitely a keeper for my library.

Of all the snippets on the 'battle of Carrhae' I've read to date, this gives the most balanced account. The author is careful with the sources, noting the discrepancies in their account of the same incident and yet still managing to maintain an enjoyable narrative. In my experience, when writers place too much emphasis on the veracity of their sources, their is a tendency for the book to morph into an academic treatise.

The book is repetitive in some areas but still enjoyable; leaving you with an undestanding of the motivations of both the Roman and Parthian empires over Syria. The author also argues against the unfair negative legacy attached to Crassus as result of the loss of the battle: highlighting his achievements during the Spartacus wars and his support of Sulla at the battle of the Colline Gate. All of which show Crassus as a capable commander and shrewd operator. Instead he makes a good case that Crassus was up against an extraordinary and masterful Parthian opponent - Surenas. Be advised though, there is a hint of hero worship of Surenas by Gareth.

Well worth a read, enjoy!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New and Better Crassus, 18 Aug 2010
This review is from: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East (Hardcover)
For many years I have been puzzled by the fate of Marcus Licinius Crassus. Reading the many historical treaties concerning the fall of the Roman Republic you might have been forgiven for believing that there were two men called Marcus Licinius Crassus. The first was the hugely successful political operator who rose from relative obscurity to become the richest man in Rome, a man who forged a highly successful alliance with two of the most powerful men Rome ever produced - Caesar and Pompey - and the man who comprehensively defeated one of Rome's most dangerous enemies - Spartacus. Then there is the other Crassus - the militarily incompetant who managed to be defeated by a Parthian army half the size of his own forces and who then managed to lose his own life in an obvious trap. The question has always been how can these two different images of one man ever be reconciled. The answer, it turns out, is relatively simple but I won't steal Mr. Sampson's thunder by revealing it here. If you are reading this review then I presume you have more than a passing interest in this subject and my advice would be read this book - you won't be disappointed. This is historical analysis at it's very best written by an historian whose logical approach brooks little argument.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist history at its best and worst?, 25 May 2013
By 
JPS - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East (Hardcover)
This is a very interesting, and at times fascinating book about the Roman disaster at Carrhae and the death of Crassus, arguably the most powerful member of the first triumvirate (the other two being Pompey and Caesar) in 53 BC at the hands of the Parthians commanded by Surena.

To begin with (and although most of the source discussion is pushed back into an appendix), the author has definitely studied and well-researched his subject. He has also identified the rather negative - and often implausible - biases contained in these sources, in particular in Plutarch, whose moralising agenda seems, once again, to have been privileged over historical accuracy.

The main interest of the book lies in the portray that it paints of Crassus, and the explanations that the author provides with the awful reputation that this "loser" acquired in Roman literature, a reputation that has mostly prevailed to this day. Gareth Sampson strenuously and valiantly attempts to rehabilitate the reputation of the vanquished Roman warlord who paid the disaster with his life. In particular, he makes a number of convincing points showing that Crassus was a highly efficient, successful and experienced Roman senator with a colossal fortune, huge political experience, vast political connections and significantly more military experience that he is usually credited for. Moreover, although about sixty years old when he left on his Parthian campaign, he was far from senile and very much at the top of his campaign.

Regarding his military experience, he was the real victor of Spartacus' slave rebellion, although Pompey managed to get some of the credit for it, in one of his usual exercises of one-upmanship. As the author shows, this was no mean feat in itself, even if the Romans did not consider that military victories over slaves were worthy of triumphs. He was also Sylla's right hand man and he had saved the day for his boss, almost a decade before, as Sylla and his army fought the faction of Marius at the gates of Rome.

As the author admits, he also had some more unsavoury sides which gave him a reputation for avarice and greed. This, however, may have been at least in part the result of defamation by his enemies because he seems to have used money as a weapon to bride, but also as a means to increase his political influence and to extract favours from those who owed him. Among other uses, his huge fortune attracted to him a clientele of young, ambitious, competitive and ruthless scions of senatorial families, of which Julius Caesar was but one. This feature, as shown in the book, meant that he could select the senior officers for his Parthian campaign from among the best of the competitive and aggressive young senators.

The author also does a good job when explaining the reasons that Crassus had to go on such a campaign: military glory was a key element in becoming, or, in Crassus' case, in maintaining his position among the top men in Rome. He needed it, especially since Caesar was acquiring masses of it in Gaul. Moreover, he also needed to trump Pompey, who had acquired his glory and fame in the very same place (Syria) a decade before and was highly popular in Rome, unlike Crassus. Sampson also does, in my view, mostly a good job in showing that, contrary to what the main sources imply or sometimes state, Crassus' preparations were thorough and meticulous. He was known for his prudence and organisation and he recruited a vast army which he thoroughly trained to the extent that it was largely (but not only) made up of recruits.

This is, however, the point where the author starts going too far, in my view. First he attempts to find all sorts of excuses for Crassus and tries to exonerate him from any responsibility in the disaster, including an attempt to shift the blame on Cassius Longinus (one of Caesar's future assassins), one of his lieutenants and the only one who survived whom he accuses of cowardice and of abandoning Crassus in particular. He also attempts to justify each and every of Crassus' decisions and tries to show that, under the circumstances, it was the best option. Some choices may be debatable. One can argue as to whether choosing a different route would have been preferable, bearing in mind that less than twenty years later Marc Antony chose to invade through Armenia with an even larger force and barely avoided a disaster of even greater proportions.

In other cases, however, exonerating Crassus seems much more difficult. These include, in particular, the inability of his forces to cope with Parthian cavalry and the mistakes made in offering to his enemy exactly the kind of terrain and battle which maximised their advantages while cancelling those of the Roman legionaries. As another reviewer has noted, this is where Gareth Sampson is forced to resort to speculation and attempts to make Surenas, the Parthian commander, into some kind of military genius. Allegedly, he carefully analysed the Roman army, planned a brilliant strategy accordingly and build up his own force accordingly in order to overwhelm it.

As this reviewer noted, this is very unlikely and I would add that it is largely incorrect. There was simply nothing original in Surenas' all-cavalry force made up of horse archers and heavy lance cavalry. All Scythe and Sarmatian tribes had been organized in such armies for centuries from the Danube and the Black Sea and Central Asia. Moreover, such forces were not exactly new either. The Parthians conquered Mesopotamia and defeated the Seleucid armies almost a century before using the very same tactics. These tactics were typical of the Scythes (to which the Parthians were related), and of steppe nomads more generally. They had been used for hundreds of years.

In reality, the author's attempt to make Surenas into a "military genius" seems to be an attempt to cover-up Crassus' dismal intelligence failures and the fact that he grossly underestimated and possibly even despised his enemy. He was aware of the need for him to have some good and reliable cavalry but started off with too few of them (the 1000 Gallic cavalry who were massacred with his son, the light troops and several cohorts of legionaries when attempting to break the encirclement and come to grips with the Parthians). Moreover, he started the campaign with almost no missile infantry capable of shooting back at the Parthian horse archers without being outranged (only 500 foot archers) or able to inflict any significant damage on the cataphracts (no slingers).

Finally, his mixture of typically Roman overconfidence and arrogance, built from constant victories against very different foes, played straight into the Parthians hands. Perhaps in part because of his overwhelming numbers, and because his previous military experiences had been in close contact fighting, he offered the enemy - an all-cavalry force - exactly the kind of battle that they excelled at. At the very least, and as another author mentioned, there was from the Roman side a complete breakdown in military intelligence for Crassus quite obviously did not even know who he was fighting.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg, 9 Aug 2009
By 
Mr. M. Watkins (Kent, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East (Hardcover)
The Defeat of Rome has several good parts. Sampson's coverage of the rise and history of the Parthian Empire on its on would provide a sound reason to recommend this book. The addition of the overview of the Roman Republic, and the useful reminder that when the First Triumvirate was formed Julius Caesar was the junior partner, together with a clear summary of events in the East up until 53BC makes the first 5 chapters a good, solid, read. And the Appendices are very useful.

Unfortunately, from chapter 6 on, Sampson dissolves into hero worship for the Parthian commander, Surenas. This then leads to mistakes, distortions and wild guesses and assumptions presented as fact. Examples include describing Centurions as junior NCOs (pg 115, ignoring Plutarch's clear description of Crasuss's failure to train the men over the winter of 54/53BC in favour of his own assumption that they spent the autumn, winter and spring training (pg 115) or believing that a fully armoured cataphract could long outrun a man under the mid-day sun (not for nothing did the Romans refer to such equipment as "ovens").

Sampson sees Surenas as a military genius who, based on a line in Plutarch, appears to have developed a missile weapon capable of punching through Roman shields and armour (but which never seems to have been used again) and developed a cunning plan that offered Crassus no chance of escape. Although I have doubts about any commander being that able if they can lose touch overnight with 2,00 slower moving troops leaving a trail of dead and wounded behind them. Crassus on the other hand is depicted as doing no wrong, despite marching out into the plain that suited the Parthians the best and not letting his troops properly prepare before pushing them ahead at high speed.

An alternative reading fits the sources just as well. And that is that Surenas thought his cataphracts might over awe the tired and thirsty legionaries (showing the usual mounted nobility disregard for infantry) and when that failed settled for a running fight, looking to wear down the Romans until either they retired or the main army came up. Crassus was bereft of ideas on how to respond, and shattered by the death of his son (and with him the majority of his cavalry). The raw legionaries then panic, and lacking strong leadership, begin to fall apart. Surenas then hounds them from Parthia, killing Crassus by subterfuge as he is unable to do so otherwise.

Sampson wants Carrhae to be a Blenheim, a mighty power out thought and out fought by a power of equal or greater might, thrown away only due to the ruler's paranoia. But as far as Rome was concerned, it was never more than a Majuba or an Isandlwana, an embarrassing defeat at the edge of the empire of a previously reliable general who was searching for glory.

Despite Sampson's efforts, it is still Rome's Defeat rather than Parthia's Victory.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crassus., 26 Sep 2013
By 
Russ G. Mills - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Read the book on holiday and couldn't put in down a very good and informative read. Crassus wasn't the bad guy he was made out to be.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I Expected this to be a novel not a text book a very poor read., 20 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I Expected this to be a novel not a text book a very poor read. The constant refereals to other texts and eariler/later passages made it virtualy imposible to get into.

John Bruce
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East
The Defeat of Rome: Crassus, Carrhae and the Invasion of the East by Gareth C. Sampson (Hardcover - 21 Feb 2008)
13.59
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews