At the very end of the Roman Republic, Marcus Licinius Crassus was one of the three most powerful people in Rome. He was the wealthiest man in Rome, and arguably, the wealthiest man the Western world had ever seen.
He also had tremendous power and influence, but he yearned to surpass his allies/rivals Julius Cesar and Pompeius Magnus. Following his election to consul in 55 BCE, he raised troops and set off on a tremendously unpopular war against the Parthians.
There, his legions were destroyed, his son died, and he died.
When you look at this event in history, with the 60 year old Crassus bringing himself to his doom, you have to stop and scratch your head. This was a man who had achieved an incredibly solid foundation and a marvelously successful in life. Yet, he was off against Parthia bringing himself to his end.
You can look likewise to the Unification of Japan under Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and his subsequent disastrous campaign in Korea that contributed significantly to the destruction of the Toyotomi, who had likewise been the most powerful in Japan.
In April 1592, Toyotomi forces landed on the Korean peninsula and were promptly locked into a bitter struggle with the Joseon Dynasty of Korea and the Ming Dynasty of China (of which the Joseon Dynasty was a client state).
Both events are somewhat puzzling. Crassus was the wealthiest man in Rome, and had a legitimate argument to being the most powerful (certainly, among the 3 most powerful). Hideyoshi had been named kampaku -- Grand Regent -- officially consolidating himself as the sole ruler of Japan. Both men had had amazing and thrilling careers and tremendous successes.
Perhaps if they had won their last military adventures, the history books would read differently. That's always a factor to consider: hindsight being 20/20 and all. So to say, "They overreached" is true, but includes hindsight bias. Had these been successful campaigns, history would look differently.
But going through the history books recently on the end of the Roman Republic, I found a striking similarity between both Crassus and Hideyoshi.
The setup was similar:
*Extremely wealthy, powerful, well-resourced, many troops, and the nearby "easy" victories were all taken up.
*Insatiable desire for more glory, wealth, and adventure.
*Getting on in years (Crassus: 60 years old; Hideyoshi: 56 years old).
But, most strikingly, was the fact that neither Crassus nor Hideyoshi seemed to take their initial opponent seriously enough.
Crassus had been planning a grand and out-stretched campaign far beyond Parthia, perhaps all the way to India.
Hideyoshi saw the Korean Peninsula as a mere stepping stone into China, which was his ultimate aim.
In both cases, the men had underestimated the difficulty that lay in front of them. They didn't equip correctly, didn't scout the enemy enough, didn't have a significant battleplan... and additionally, these fights were in some ways much more operationally difficult than previous combats due to the long-range logistics and supply required.
This particular blog post... I have a feeling I'm not getting across quite the gravity of stumbling upon Crassus taking the Parthians lightly despite the fact that he was venturing into a new terrain that required very different setup, defense, and logistics.
The ignominious end of Crassus, and likewise the would-be Toyotomi dynasty, has always been something of a mystery to me. But in the end, it might not even be over-expansion and excessive greed that did the two generals in, though that obviously was the spark that lit the flame. No, the final damning of them was probably taking an enemy too lightly as the advanced in age, not preparing for the challenge in front of them: working off visions of glory and grandeur, as opposed to the more calm and focused-on-the-next-step type actions that actually win conflicts and victories.