February 20, 2015, by Will Leveritt
1899 years ago today: Trajan was awarded the title Parthicus
Text by Alice Kitchener
Image by Kelly Grimshaw
Emperor Trajan, or Imperator Caesar Nerva Traianus Divi Nervae filius Augustus, was born on September 18th AD 56 to Marcia and Marcus Ulpius Traianus, a prominent senator and general. Trajan acceded to the emperorship in AD 98, reigning until his death in AD 117. He fought in Germania and proved to be a gifted general under the reign of Nerva. The perception of his military affairs as generally successful and his administration as relatively altruistic has led to him being considered one of Rome’s more successful rulers, and the second of “The Five Good Emperors”.
The campaigns in Parthia followed Trajans’ successful wars and subjugation of Dacia (AD 101 – 102, 105 – 6). The exact motives behind the war are not clear, however it is believed that the disagreement was born out of a dispute over the shared hegemony of Armenia when Parthia installed a king that Rome did not find agreeable. Moreover the invasion made for a good excuse in terms of freeing Rome’s Asian trade from dependence on Persian goodwill.
Trajan arrived in Antioch early in AD 114. In the spring the army moved up to Satala to be met by reinforcements from Cappadocia and the Danube and entered Armenia from the city of Melitene. Armenian resistance was light and ineffective and the legions soon took Arsamosata and reached the town of Elegeia. Here Trajan deposed the Armenian king Parthamasiris thus ending the Arsacid monarchy. Subsequently Armenia was absorbed into the Roman Empire.
In the Spring of AD 115 Trajan progressed to Northern Mesopotamia capturing Nisibis and Batnae. He proceeded to organise the kingdoms of Osroene into a new Roman province of which Nisibis became the new capital in order to ensure a foothold in Mesopotamia that the Parthians could not rally against.
In AD 116 the Roman army split into two; one half followed the Tigris and the other the Euphrates. The forces that followed the Tigris captured Gaugamela and Arbela whilst those that followed the Euphrates headed to Seleucia and successfully secured the area with little resistance.Trajan then surrounded the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and captured it with relative ease after a short siege.
The success of Trajan’s campaigns in Parthia culminated in the bestowing of several imperial honours including the title of Parthicus. Cassius Dio presents it thus:
“When he had captured the whole country of the Armenians and had won over many of the kings also… the senate voted to him all the usual honours in great plenty and furthermore bestowed upon him the title of Optimus, or Most Excellent… After he had captured Nisibis and Batnae he was given the name of Parthicus.”*
Trajan’s various campaigns extended the Roman Empire to its greatest territorial size. Yet the zenith of his success was short-lived: he died only a year later in AD 117.
*Cassius Dio Roman History Book 68 (18.3b and 23.1). Trans.Cary, E. (1925) Cassius Dio Vol. VIII, Cambridge MA.