Iran, Parthian Empire
|Died||53 BC (aged 31)
Iran, Parthian Empire
|Battles/wars||Battle of Carrhae|
Surena or Suren, 84 BC – 53 BC, was a Parthian spahbed ("General" or "Commander") during the 1st century BC. He was a member of the House of Suren and was best known for defeating the Romans in the Battle of Carrhae. Under his command Parthians decisively defeated a numerically superior Roman invasion force under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus. It is commonly seen as one of the earliest and most important battles between the Roman and Parthian empires and one of the most crushing defeats in Roman history.
'Surena' remains popular as a name in Iran. 'Surena' is the Greek and Latin form of Sûrên or Sūrēn. As 'Suren', the name remains common in Armenia. Suren means "the heroic one, Avestan sūra (strong, exalted)."[d]
In Life of Crassus 21, written c. 225 years after the commander's time, Plutarch described Surena as "an extremely distinguished man. In wealth, birth, and in the honor paid to him, he ranked next after the king; in courage and ability he was the foremost Parthian of his time; and in stature and personal beauty he had no equal."[b] Also according to Plutarch, there were "many slaves" in his army, suggesting the general had great wealth. Plutarch also described him as "the tallest and finest looking man himself, but the delicacy of his looks and effeminacy of his dress did not promise so much manhood as he really was master of; for his face was painted, and his hair parted after the fashion of the Medes."
In 54 BC, Surena commanded troops of Orodes II at the battle for the city of Seleucia. Surena distinguished himself in this battle for dynastic succession (Orodes II had previously been deposed by Mithridates III) and was instrumental in the reinstatement of Orodes upon the Arsacid throne.
In 53 BC, the Romans advanced on the western Parthian vassalaries. In response, Orodes II sent his cavalry units under Surena to combat them. The two armies subsequently met at the Battle of Carrhae (at Harrân in present-day Turkey), where the superior equipment and clever tactics of the Parthians to lure the Romans out into the middle of the desert enabled them to defeat the numerically superior Romans.
Although this feat of arms took a severe toll on the Roman troops (Plutarch speaks of 20,000 dead and 10,000 prisoners), and "produced a mighty echo amongst the peoples of the East," it did not cause "any decisive shift in the balance of power," that is, the Arsacid victory did not gain them territory. For Surena, "it soon cost him his life. Probably fearing that he would constitute a threat to himself, King Orodes II had him executed."
"In some ways, the position of [Surena] in the historical tradition is curiously parallel to that of Rustam in the [Shahnameh]." "Yet despite the predominance of Rustam in the epic tradition, it has never been possible to find him a convincingly historical niche."
Portrayals of Surena
- The last composition of the 17th century French dramatist Pierre Corneille, a tragedy titled Suréna, is roughly based on the story of General Surena.
- Surena appears as a minor character in The Catiline Conspiracy, the second volume of John Maddox Roberts' SPQR series, taking place in 63 BC, several years before Carrhae. When Surena visits Rome as the head of a diplomatic mission from Phraates III, he meets the series' protagonist Decius Metellus at a party. Decius privately dismisses the Parthian as an effeminate fop, but ruefully writes in hindsight how wrong that assessment was, after Surena's generalship at Carrhae.
|a.^||The right to crown Parthian kings did not specifically denote power over those kings. "The execution of Surena, the victor at Carrhae shows the relatively unlimited power of the supreme monarch in Parthia."|
|b.^||Plutarch's 2nd century AD description of the 1st century BC commander reads: "Surena was no ordinary person; but in fortune, family and honour, the first after the king; and in point of courage and capacity, as well as in size and beauty, superior to the Parthians of his time. If he went only upon an excursion into the country, he had a thousand camels to carry his baggage, and two hundred carriages for his concubines. He was attended by thousand heavy-armed horse, and many more of the light-armed rode before him. Indeed, his vassals and slaves made up a body of cavalry little less than ten thousand."|
|c.^||The other noble family explicitly mentioned is the House of Karen.|
|d.^||Justi 1895, p. 317, col. 2, ¶ 2: "d. i. der heldenhafte, awest. sūra (stark, hehr)."|
- Lendering 2006.
- Herzfeld 1929, p. 44,70.
- Lang 1983, p. 510.
- Justi 1895, p. 317.
- Perikanian 1983, p. 635.
- The Internet Classics Archive
- Bivar 1983, p. 49.
- Bivar 1983, pp. 49–51.
- Schippmann 1987, p. 528.
- Bivar 1983, p. 51.
- Schippmann 1987, p. 532.
- Langhorne & Langhorne 1934, p. 59.
- Lukonin 1983, p. 704.
- Bivar, A. D. H. (1983), "The Political History of Iran under the Arsacids", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 21–100
- Bivar, A. D. H. (2003), "Gondophares", Encyclopaedia Iranica 11.2, Costa Mesa: Mazda
- Frye, R. N. (1983), "The Political History of Iran under the Sassanians", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 116–181
- Herzfeld, Ernst Emil, ed. (1929), "Das Haus Sūrēn von Sakastan-->", Archæologische Mitteilungen aus Iran I, Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, pp. 70–80
- Justi, Ferdinand (1895), "Sūrēn", Iranisches Namenbuch, Leipzig/Marburg: Elwert, pp. 316–317.
- Lang, David M. (1983), "Iran, Armenia and Georgia", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran 3.1, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 505–537
- Lendering, Jona (2006), Surena, Amsterdam: livius.org
- Lukonin, V. G. (1983), "Political, Social and Administrative Institutions", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran 3.2, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 681–747
- Plutarch, "Marcus Crassus", in Langhorne, John; Langhorne, William, eds. (1934), Plutarch's Lives, London: J. Crissy
- Rawlinson, George (1901), The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World 6, London: Dodd, Mead & Company
- Perikanian, A. (1983), "Iranian Society and Law", in Yarshater, Ehsan, Cambridge History of Iran 3.2, London: Cambridge UP, pp. 627–681
- Schippmann, K. (1987), "Arsacid ii: The Arsacid Dynasty", Encyclopaedia Iranica 2, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 525–536