This study re-investigates Nero’s Armenian War of 54~63CE and the Treaty of Rhandeia to highlight the geostrategic importance of Armenia in the context of the Roman strategy against Parthia. Firstly, I will summarize the old debate on the question whether there was the grand strategy of the Roman Empire. Secondly, I will explain the processes of forcing the kingdom of Armenia to be situated in the contact zone(or the buffer zone) between the imperial powers of Rome and Parthia, and the crucial phases of Nero’s Armenian War during the first century CE. Thirdly, I discuss the strategic intent to conclude the Treaty of Rhandeia in 63CE, which was followed by the coronation of Tiridates I by Nero at Rome in 66CE.
Since E. W. Luttwak’s study on the Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire was published, it has been one of the most controversial topics whether the Romans had their imperial strategy. There was a certain decision-making group in the Roman imperial court, who were able to ‘establish’ and ‘maintain’ a consistent strategy. The primores civitatis(foremost authorities of the state), the consilium principis(council of the princeps) in particular, acted as the closest advisers of the emperor at times of crucial decisions. Ultimately, it is probable that the military disposition, operation and logistics of the greater empires of Rome and Parthia, along with their frontier and foreign policies, were considered to have been relatively ‘strategic’ by people of the neighbouring kingdoms and tribal states.
In 66 BC, as the outcome of the Third Mithridatic War, the kingdom of Armenia was driven into the contact zone between the eastern frontier of Rome and the western frontier of Parthia, and therefore it first became to have the geostrategic importance in the Roman strategy facing against Parthia. Rome’s foreign relations with Parthia, which had been unsecured after Crassus’ defeat and fall at the battle of Carrhae in 53BCE, were restored by Augustus’ peace settlement in 20BCE. The Armenian question was resolved with the agreement that the Roman emperor appoints the king of Armenia whom the Parthian king of kings has recommended, but since then in practice the former would appoint the kings out of non-Armenian royal families while the latter often underwent civil wars of the Parthian succession. In 54CE the Parthian king of kings Vologaeses I raided Armenia and crowned his brother Tiridates I king of Armenia to take strategic superiority over the upper Euphrates. Nero decided to begin war against the Arsacid kings and appointed Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo as the dux belli(commander of war).
Corbulo conducted military operations based on the Roman strategy against Parthia. He strengthened the defence of the eastern provinces, restored hegemony over Armenia, and tried to evade a full-scale war with Parthia. However, the war became inevitable when Nero had placed Lucius Caesennius Paetus in command to annex Armenia, which was resulted in the serious defeat at Rhandeia in 62CE. Nero after sought advices from the primores civitates replaced Paetus with Corbulo who rectified the urgent situation and managed to draw up the Treaty of Rhandeia with the Arsacid kings in 63CE. The main agreement of the Treaty was that the Roman emperor approves of a Parthian prince as king of Armenia, thereby crowning Tiridates I by Nero at Rome. In 66CE Nero spent a huge budget on holding the clamorous coronation for his propaganda purpose.
From a strategic point of view, venturing into a full-scaled war to incorporate the kingdom of Armenia into a province of either Rome or Parthia was not any good solution to the Armenian question. The province of Armenia undoubtedly would have required much more human and material resources to control and defend the extended borderlands. It was strategically better option for both Rome and Parthia to maintain Armenia as a buffer state situated in the contact zone between them. The Treaty of Rhandeia in 63CE was the outcome of considering their strategic interests. Henceforth the peace lasted for fifty years until Trajan’s Parthian campaigns, but the kernel of the Treaty that the Roman emperor approves of an Arsacid royal blood as king of Armenia was maintained by 252CE when Shapur I of the Sassanid Persia annexed the kingdom.