Returning to L’Art de la Guerre after a hiatus of a couple of months, it was a with great enthusiasm that I took the role of a youthful Antiochos III defending the Seleukid Empire from Andrew’s Parthian incursion (c.210 BC). The armies mustered on opposite sides of an open plain overlooked by a village on a tell (situated on the Seleukid left).
The Seleukid army deployed between a number of fields and a plantation, with a wide gully to their front. The left flank command consisted of all three of the pike-armed units, two units of Asiatic archers, two units of Bedouin camelry and two skirmishing units of slingers hidden in the village. The central command consisted of two units of elephants flanked by two units of armoured thorakitai, and screened by two units of elite Cretan archers. Both the left and central commanders were rather ordinary. On the right, Antiochos – a strategist – commanded four units of lancers (two elite), two units of Skythian horse archers, and another unit of Asiatic light horse.
The Parthian army only deployed to commands. The brilliant Parthian commander took control of four units of light horse archers, and eight units of medium horse archers – throwing the lights forward on the flank to screen the village. The other Parthian commander held back seven units of mail-clad cataphracts, four of them elite.
In the opening move, the Parthian commander swarmed forward towards the village on the tell, uncovering the Seleukid slingers in ambush. The Seleukids advanced across the board. On the left, the Bedouin camelry were sent to pass around the far side of the village, while the phalanx advanced to fill the gap between the tell and the gully. The Asiatic archers moved easily through the gully to form up on its edge, ready to fire on the out-ranged Parthian horse archers. The central and right commands advanced steadily towards the Parthian cataphracts who also advanced cautiously. Antiochos made use of a surplus of command points to send his Skythian horse archers wide of the Parthian line, angling to threaten their flanks and/or the Parthian camp.
While the Parthian commander pulled back his horse archers out of foot-bow range, the noble in command of the cataphracts dispatched one unit to see off the Skythian horse archers. Seeing an easy win, Antiochos sent his two units of line cavalry supported by the Asiatic horse to surround and destroy the isolated Parthian unit.
The Parthians then sent their entire cataphract line forward to engage with the now outnumbered isolated Seleukid line cavalry. The Parthian light horse archers went to screen the Bedouin trying to pass around the flank of the village, while their medium horse came forward at an angle, attempting to inhibit the formation of thorakitai and elephants in the Seleukid centre, while not getting shot by the Seleukid archers in the gully.
Antiochos rode to the defence of his stranded cavalry, sending in his elite agema and companion horse, and ordering the Skythians to ride along behind the line of cataphracts. An unfortunate gap still existed in the Seleukid line between the ordinary and the elite heavy cavalry, but it was better than piecemeal destruction.
The Seleukid elephants also angled towards the cataphracts, while the slingers in the village rained a very light but telling fire down on the horse archers below. Off to the Seleukid left, a dust cloud announced the imminent arrival of Parthian reinforcements and the Seleukid commander drew back his camelry to await the incoming flank march.
The Parthian flanking force, when it did arrive, proved something of an underwhelming force; only two units of light horse archers. Never-the-less, they were able to disrupt the Seleukid plans on the flank, and were swift enough to skirt the Seleukid forces heading directly for the Seleukid camp filled with delectable camp followers and rather a lot of gold.
The Bedouin, free from having to worry about a large flanking force, and too far away to save their camp, charged back into the Parthian light horse who had now come around the village. In what should have been a one-sided combat, the Bedouin defied the odds and got the worst of it. The Seleukid pike charged at the massed horse archers before them and broke up the Parthian line as the nearest units evaded. Over on the right, the cataphracts managed to break one unit of Seleukid heavy cavalry before getting charged in the front by the elephants, and in the rear by the Skythian horse archers. The Asiatic light cavalry moved off towards the Parthian camp, full of equally delectable camp followers and unsurprisingly large quantities of gold.
While part of the Parthian wall of horse archers pulled away from the charging pikemen, the other end stayed put, pinned in place by the Seleukid Thorakitai. In what, again, should have been fairly one sided, the Seleukid armoured spearmen came off second best against the horse archers. In melee…
In the massed cavalry melee on the Seleukid right, the last of the Seleukid line cavalry broke, just as the elephants started to collapse the opposite end of the cataphract line. At the crucial juncture where the Parthians needed to start turning the Seleukid flanks, the ordinary Parthian commander only managed a single command point which was used to try to rally the unit he was attached to.
Behind the village on the tell, the once-cocky Bedouin regained some composure after their loses and saw of the light horse to their front with the assistance of some slingers from the garrison.
Despite what had felt like a myriad of Seleukid set backs up to this point the Parthians were suffering just as badly. Hoping to secure the necessary cohesion loses to break the Seleukids through archery, the remaining Parthians on the Seleukid left pulled back, only to be charged by the irate camelry.
In the centre, the Seleukid thorakitai were slowly making headway and managed to turn the end of the Parthian line of medium horse archers. Among the cataphracts, the arrival of the elephants on their flank and the inability of the Parthian line to react – partly caused by the death of their commander in battle – foreshadowed defeat for the invaders.
This was the first battle where I have faced an entirely mounted army, and Andrew’s first time commanding one. Given the experimental nature of our respective approaches, I’d say he did very well, and I was forced – on the whole – to react to his moves. Throughout, I was hampered by some poor combat rolls and Andrew suffered mediocre command rolls. Shooting was pretty dire for both of us.
The final break-points were 19/22 for the Seleukids, and a mighty 25/21 for the Parthians (the final round of combat was bloody and one-sided). A respectable victory for Antiochos. He might have to strike a commemorative coin or adopt a new title of something after this…