Eastern Mediterranean 166: Lucius Verus’ Parthian War
Hadrian was succeeded by Antoninus Pius (138–161), whose peaceful reign was followed by that of the militarily-inexperienced co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Seizing advantage of the situation, a resurgent Parthia invaded and occupied Armenia, defeating Roman legions sent from Cappadocia and Syria. Verus traveled to Syria to deal with the Parthian threat in 162, but left the conduct of the war entirely in the hands of his generals. Roman forces retook Armenia the next year then, after a fight over Osroene, invaded the Parthian Empire itself in 165. Despite sacking the capital Ctesiphon, the Roman campaign was called off in mid-166 following the outbreak of plague among the legions.
135? Syria Palestina▲
With the crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt, the Romans abolished the province of Judea, annexing it to Syria to form the new province of Syria Palestina. Torah law and Jewish rituals were prohibited (although most prohibitions were lifted upon Hadrian’s death in 138), and Jews were forbidden to enter Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem) except on the day of Tisha B’Av.
161 Vologases IV’s Conquest of Armenia▲
In late summer or early autumn 161, Shah Vologases IV of Parthia invaded the Roman client state of Armenia, expelling its king, Sohaemus, and replacing him with Pacorus, a Parthian Arsacid. In response, Marcus Sedatius Severianus, the Roman governor of Cappadocia, crossed into Armenia, but the Parthians quickly trapped him at Elegia, massacring his legion and compelling him to commit suicide. The Parthians then invaded Syria, also defeating the Roman governor there.
163 Lucius Verus’ Armenian Campaign▲
In the summer of 162 Lucius Verus departed for Antioch to lead the war against Parthia, while his fellow co-emperor Marcus Aurelius stayed on to manage Rome itself. Taking his time on the journey and setting up at a resort on his arrival, Verus largely left the execution of the war to his generals. In 163 two legions under Marcus Statius Priscus drove the Parthians from Armenia, destroying the capital of Artaxata (which they would replace with the newly-built capital of Kainepolis in 164).
163–165 Parthian Occupation of Osroene▲
At about the same time that the Romans were retaking Armenia (163), the Parthians invaded Osroene and deposed King Ma’nu VIII, replacing him with their own candidate. The Romans responded by seizing a number of Osroene cities on the Euphrates, but otherwise spent 163–64 in preparation. In 165 a Roman army under Marcus Claudius Fronto—part of a two-pronged invasion of Parthia itself—entered the kingdom, defeating the Parthians at Edessa and restoring Manu to the throne.
??–Dec 165 Lucius Verus’ Parthian Campaign▲
In 165 two Roman armies under Avidius Cassius and Marcus Claudius Fronto invaded Parthia through the kingdoms of northern Mesopotamia. Defeating the Parthians at Dura-Europos, Cassius advanced to capture and sack both the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and the great commercial city of Seleucia in December. The Romans then marched to the Persian Gulf, just as Trajan had done half a century earlier.
Dec 165–?? 180? Antonine Plague▲
During the siege of Seleucia in 165, Roman legions became infected with an unknown disease (most likely smallpox), which quickly spread throughout the Empire. Described in some detail by the Greco-Roman physician Galen, the disease claimed approximately five million lives over fifteen years. The army was hardest-hit, severely compromising the capabilities of the Roman legions over the coming years.