The Eagle and the Lion: Rome, Persia and an Unwinnable Conflict

by Adrian Goldsworthy

Hardcover, 2023



Call number



Apollo (2023), 640 pages


The Eagle and The Lion is a story of the imperial rivalry between two of the greatest empires of the ancient world - Parthian and Persian - and how they rose and eventually fell.

Media reviews

"Narrative history at its best, Adrian Goldsworthy’s Rome and Persia is informative, readable, carefully sourced, and cautious in its judgments about events that occurred between 90 BCE and the 600s CE in the Mediterranean world, north Africa, and western Asia."
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"An expert account of a historical rivalry long neglected by popular historians."
"Meticulous yet sweeping in scope, this is a major contribution to the understanding of a significant period in world history."
"Goldsworthy offers “a path through some unfamiliar territory and leading to more than a few surprising conclusions.” This work makes a solid beginning for the Roman history enthusiast."

User reviews

LibraryThing member rnsulentic
Adrian Goldsworthy has produced an interesting volume on the 700 year rivalry between Ancient Rome and Ancient Parthia and their replacement, The Sasanian Persians. The titles is a tad misleading, because although the Parthians ruled over what was Persia, nobody ever called them Persians, although
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the Sassanids were. Goldsworthy is upfront about not being super detailed, because of the large time span, and further is at pains to explain what was going on in the Parthian and Sassanid empires because they are so poorly documented. Despite that, this is both a good introduction to the subject and a useful reference to the ebb and flow of relations between these empires. Goldsworthy makes the point that no Roman leader or emperor actually intended to conquer the Parthians and Sassanids, and likewise, until 7th century AD, neither did they. The rivalry seems to have taken the form of never ending dueling over the border areas between them. The final war between Rome the Sassanids likely weakened both to where neither were able to resist the Muslim conquests, although Rome fared a bit better, the Sassanids ending up conquered by the Arabs.
Goldsworthy also tries as much as possible to consider all sides' motivations as he writes in his introduction: "Stepping back and studying what happened over such a long period immediately encourages caution about assuming that attitudes were simple and unchanging. A major weakness of these debates is that they have tended to speak of Roman imperialism and Roman frontiers while ignoring the part played by other states."

Some take aways:
-Armenia was more important to the conflicts between Rome and the Parthians/Sassanids than is usually thought of when talking about Rome and it's adversaries. Much like Otto Bismark's bon mot about "Some damn thing in the Balkans", some damn thing in Armenia seems to spark off conflict between Rome and the Parthians/Sassanids again and again.
-The Sassanids built extensive border fortifications to guard their northern flank, that is just now being more thoroughly investigated.
-The 6th and 7th century wars between the Eastern Romans and the Sassanids forced a convergence of military practices that seems to have ended up with the Romans resembling the Persians more than anything else.
-The Muslim conquests were not a sure thing, but were a matter of being in the right place at the right time and taking full advantage of it.

All in all, another good volume from Goldsworthy.
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Physical description

640 p.; 7.99 x 1.85 inches


1838931953 / 9781838931957

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