The Parthian Shot

Parting Parthian

Parting Parthian

You’ve heard people talk about a “parting shot”, when, for example, somebody makes a miffed exit and on the way out emits a toxic word or two. Well, that’s wrong. It’s not a “parting” shot. It’s a Parthian shot. Who were the Parthians that we name a shot after them?

I bring this up because I’m still reading about Cleopatra as research for my book. And I’m now approaching the bit where Mark Antony, her second lover (after Julius Caesar, the first), is preparing to head east to conquer those Parthians, even as Cleopatra was four or five months pregnant with their third child.

Those are the same Parthians that had succeeded the mighty Persian empire, and who had only a generation before slaughtered an entire Roman army under Crassus, after presenting him his son’s head on a stake. They were utterly not to be messed with. Indeed, Mark Antony, too, would turn back in disaster, with two-fifths of his army killed. The Parthians would remain invincible for another century and a half.

Now to the point: Their most insidious and effective tactic was the retreat, real or feigned. The mounted Parthian archers would suddenly gallop away, drawing the enemy army after them in hot pursuit. But the archers, in full gallop (no reins or stirrups needed), would turn and shoot back, arrow after arrow.

In short, a great party trick, to this day.