Academic journal article Antichthon

The Ambitions of Quintus Labienus 'Parthicus' *

Academic journal article Antichthon

The Ambitions of Quintus Labienus 'Parthicus' *

Article excerpt

Late in 41 or early in 40 BC a force of Parthians embarked upon an unusually vigorous and penetrative irruption into the Roman province of Syria. Prominent among those commanding the Parthians was Q. Labienus who had earlier been sent to the court of the Parthian king by the assassins of Caesar as they made their own preparations for war with the dead dictator's supporters. Marooned by the outcome of the battle of Philippi, Labienus became resident at the court of the Parthian king Orodes, returning to Roman territory in the company of the invaders. The force concentrated first on Syria and surrounding territory but by the spring of 40 BC a thrust was made with Labienus at its head into the provinces of Asia Minor. Initially, prominent citizens of the region were left to make their own responses to Labienus but presently a successful Roman counter-attack was mounted under the leadership of P. Ventidius Bassus. The invaders were swiftly defeated but not before Labienus had deployed the striking self-designation 'Parthicus'.1 Bassus himself duly triumphed in November 38 BC and became the only nonimperial holder of 'Parthicus' as a cognomen.2

Q. Labienus takes his place as a member of a Roman family famed for quixotic decision-making. A great-uncle had perished as a partisan of the demagogue Saturninus and his own father had not shirked a dramatic volte face after half a lifetime in the service of Caesar. Audacious thinking was (and continued to be) a characteristic of family members.3 None, however, seems to have contemplated such apparent disloyalty to the Roman state as Q. Labienus. When the triumvirs came to restore the region and reward the loyalty of individual citizens the epigraphic record created branded Labienus a 'brigand'.4 Labienus' adventure with the Parthians was an opportunity for ancient writers too to express shock or lamentation. Dio presented the invasion in the depressing context of civil war, blaming Labienus' opportunity on Antony's distracting infatuation with Cleopatra. Labienus himself was depicted as a violent adventurer and the historian commented on the perversity of Labienus' taking of the title 'Parthicus' as an action utterly in violation of Roman custom.5 Plutarch placed a note of the invasion alongside details of Antony's sumptuous dining in Alexandria.6 Strabo drew Labienus as 'a lad who was irritable and full of folly'.7

Modern scholars have sought to look beyond the polemic of ancient sources and consider the rational motivations of Labienus, putting forward a variety of views. Tarn in the first edition of The Cambridge Ancient History understood the campaign of Labienus and the Parthians as much more than a mere raid and depicted the former as an agent of Parthian will in the West, self-consciously and officially a 'Parthian general' (Parthicus imperator) in the region.8 Magie understood Labienus similarly, had him seeking to conquer Asia Minor for his Parthian allies and in the latter part of his life turning 'wholly Parthian'.9 The interpretation passed into other general histories of the era.10 Others, by contrast, have been rather more mindful of the politics of the civil war. Bucheim cautioned against too swift a designation of Labienus as a traitor to his country. He detected different 'phases' to the campaign and suggested that there may have been some aspects of the invasion that were more to Labienus' tastes than others.11 Timpe saw in Labienus the continuing ambitions of the Republicans defeated at Philippi, the faction who had despatched Labienus to the Parthian court in the first instance.12 Ziegler, tracing Labienus' activities independently of the Parthians considered it impossible to think of him as a traitor to his country.13 Crawford too perceived Labienus as an active Republican and Reynolds went as far as assessing the activities of the Roman as basically a continuation of the campaigns of Brutus and Cassius.14 Schalit understood the invasion to have been a carefully constructed plan designed to satisfy the Parthian desire to possess Syria and at the same time allow Labienus to pursue his Republican ideals in Asia Minor. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.