The Lost Legion of Crassus

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【Summary】In Western China, today we find people who indeed look very “Roman.” They’ve also allegedly uncovered Roman military equipment and Roman coins. True, these items could have gotten into Western China along the fabled “Silk Road.” But what if there is another explanation? That explanation being they belong to Crassus’ Lost Legion?

Original Anthony    Sep 29, 2016 7:00 PM PT
The Lost Legion of Crassus
Anthony C. LoBaido

By Anthony C. LoBaido

LIQIAN, China – The name of this place, Liqian, sounds eerily similar to the word "legion." The reason this lexis abounds in western China is one of the most fascinating stories in all of human history. As an a priori notion, foremost we'll learn that globalization is not a new phenomenon.

The story goes something like this … In Ancient Rome, a man named Marcus Licinius Crassus grew in might, wealth, power and stature. How this happened is truly ironical. He basically invented the idea of the fire department. If Romans didn't want to sell him a burning building for a cheap price, Crassus would let their dwellings burn to the ground. In time, he became the richest man in ancient Rome as he owned many properties and other forms of wealth. Some say he was one of the richest men who ever lived. King Solomon was in fact the richest man to ever walk the Earth with wealth in excess of US$ 2 trillion. (Crassus is also famous for putting down the slave rebellion of Spartacus, which will be the subject of an entirely separate article.)

Eventually he took over the Roman Armed Forces and formulated a plan to take the Roman Expeditionary Force to conquer India. Remember that in ancient times, let's say around the time of Marco Polo, China and India were the most populous and richest nations. (India wasn't a "nation" per se until it was put together piece by piece by the British East India Company.) Crassus believed that by conquering India, he would enrich the Roman Empire.

An argument ensued on the best way to attack Iran and perhaps later on, India. Would Armenia be involved? Crassus didn't heed the advice of his own leadership. He could have marched along the coast to attack the Parthian (Iranian) capital. His forces were annihilated at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. by the ancient Iranians, known for their mastery of archery. The term "Parthian Shot" echoes through history, along with the English lexis "crass."


The image of Crassus echoes through the sands of history

Crassus' forces were annihilated. He was decapitated and a dinner theater party was held in celebration where his head was prominently displayed. Gold was poured down his throat. How could this defeat have befallen the richest man in ancient Rome? We know he was 60 years of age when the campaign began. We also know Crassus was hearing-impaired. Beyond that, Crassus made several key mistakes. He didn't receive permission from the Roman Senate. The King of Armenia offered him the chance to invade "Iran" through Armenia but he refused. He marched his legions into the deserts of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) only to be annihilated by a numerically inferior force led by the Parthian General Surena. Crassus wanted, most likely, to enrich the public treasury of Rome, since he himself was already wealthy beyond measure.

A look at the world of Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman who raised up an army in Syria

All of this provides background information for what happened after the Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. The ancient Iranians may not have killed off all of Crassus' men. Back then, the Iranians were fighting off incursions from the Huns, who were the forerunners of the great empire to emerge from Mongolia. Did the Iranians sell the elite Roman soldiers to the Chinese?

Some audacious scholars say yes! In Western China, today we find people who indeed look very "Roman." They've also allegedly uncovered Roman military equipment and Roman coins. True, these items could have gotten into Western China along the fabled "Silk Road." But what if there is another explanation? That explanation being they belong to Crassus' Lost Legion?


Did a lost legion of elite soldiers from Rome travel to China in ancient times?

Rome was embarrassed by this loss. Surena was even executed by the Parthian King, who was jealous of this victory. Armenia was attacked and published by the ancient Iranians. Crassus' own son was killed at the Battle of Carrhae. (More on this below.)

Back to Liqian. It's located in western China on the fringes of the Gobi Desert. This article in the UK Telegraph says that genetic testing on the local indigenous population reveals a massive amount of Caucasian DNA. Some of these people have fair hair and blue and green eyes. One person is called "Cai the Roman." Chinese scholars say the Chinese fought the Huns in 36 B.C. Did Roman mercenaries take part in these battles? We know that Marco Polo was an advisor to the Great Kahn, so perhaps Crassus' Lost Legion is a part of a broader story in which China utilized foreigners who acted as assets to elites in Beijing and elsewhere.

The theory of Crassus' Lost Legion was first put forth in the 1950's by Oxford University professor Homer Dubs. China traded silk and spices with ancient Romans, and the Chinese enjoyed Roman glassware. Dubs' work was released in 1957 and is entitled, "A Roman City in Ancient China." It represents the first postmodern scholarship on this whole scenario. Others claim the people of Liqian are related to soldiers from Alexander the Great, or from Iranians themselves instead of Romans. And others say no Roman weaponry or coins have been found in Liqian, which is 200 miles from the nearest city. So there is still great debate about this whole "Lost Legion" theory that's worthy of further investigation.

One report talks about a Roman helmet that has been found with Chinese characters written on it saying, "One of the prisoners." Some say there is a Roman military trunk housed today at the Lanzhou Museum in China. Zhelaizhai, near Lanzhou, is a hotbed for research. It has been claimed that the ancient Chinese name for "Rome" was "Li-Jien." The Roman historian Linius offers some details on this strange story. We know that 10,000 Roman soldiers were captured by the Parthians. Did 145 of them make it to China?

We know the Romans sought to recover their battle flags lost to the ancient Iranians, and that these were returned when a new peace treaty was signed after Crassus' annihilation at Carrhae. About 20,000 Romans were killed in the battle. Crassus was killed during peace negotiations gone wrong. The loss of Crassus' son Publius in this battle could have pushed the father over the edge of all possible sanity. About 10,000 Parthians fought in that battle. Their archery skills gave them a great advantage. Bows and arrows from the Huns and Mongols would in time reach 600 meters in terms of a lethal range.

As another salient account states :

"The Huns, or hsiung-nu, became known to the Romans after the defeat of Crassus' legions by the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae. The captured legionaries were resettled on the Parthian's eastern frontiers where they became mercenaries in the service of Chih-chih, hsiung-nu shan-yu, the king of the Southern Huns. The term hsiung-nu (archaic Chinese) derives from the ancient Iranian word for 'ruling king' and was used by the Huns when referring to themselves."


The ancient Roman armies were filled with Celts, Gauls, Germanic peoples, Romanians, Croats and others. Spartacus, who fought in the Roman Auxiliary, and is widely believed to have been the greatest soldier who ever lived, hailed from Macedonia. Could it be true that 145 Roman mercenaries made it all the way to Liqian from Italy? You decide. 

We know that in the ensuing centuries that passed, Attila the Hun attended a Roman military academy where learned Roman tactics before sacking Rome itself. Perhaps Crassus' Lost Legion was a harbinger of things to come. Just as west can travel east, east can also travel west.

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