Tuesday 17 October 2023

Pike versus the longbow

The Seleucid-Mauryan War of 305-303 BC began when Seleucus I Nicator sought to retake the Indian satrapies of the Macedonian Empire. Further conflict with the Mauryan Empire continued, albeit less frequently, as they are listed as enemies on three of the Seleucid Army sub-lists.

For the series of test games, the Seleucid II/19b sub-list was selected to match-up against the Classical Indian Army of II/3a. All battles were fought with a double-size command of 24 elements, how this differs from the standard twelve, follow the link to read the details. Six test games were played and only the significant details are listed below, then six battle reports.


The Seleucids formed its pike in centre with supports on one wing and a mobile wing on the opposite flank. The mobile wing consisted of all the Xystophoroi and scythed chariots, leaving the Celtic mercenaries and a few psiloi to form the support wing on the opposite flank. This left the thureophoroi and remaining psiloi to serve as a link between the pike centre and the mobile wing.

Deploying first, the Mauryan positioned its archers in centre, and evenly distributed the elephants and chariotry evenly on both flanks, with cavalry supporting each wing. This left the psiloi and javelinmen to be deployed in support of either wing. On one occasion, all the chariotry were grouped together, supported by all the cavalry, and the elephants formed a group on the opposite flank.

Archers versus pike

Advancing slowly forward (1BW), the Mauryan were able to hold back the Seleucid pike in four games; destroying a few and recoiling others, leaving the pikemen in shambles. Only once, did the pike make contact resulting in the annihilation of the archers. Shooting at distance beyond the threat zone, a pair of archers proved effective, but less so as the enemy pike moved into the TZ, improving their chances of survival as good.

Elephants versus psiloi

A combat result of ‘better than’ will eliminate an elephant, but not so for the psiloi. A score of twice as many, still allows the psiloi to dance circles about the pachyderm. Psiloi supported by thureophoroi worked well. Recoiling a few turns, then passing through the thureophoroi, the psiloi could eventually move around to the exposed elephant flank. The maneuver took time, but games generally lasted six to eight turns, giving enough time to execute.

Elephant versus elephant

A combat result of ‘less than’ will have the loser fleeing its move distance, inflicting damage to friend and foe. Elephants will eliminate knights with a similar combat result. Deploying first as defender, the Mauryan elephants were guaranteed to meet enemy psiloi. One game avoided the problem by placing a number of elephants in support of the archers. During that battle, their support was not required as the archers held the Seleucid pike at bay.

Xystophoroi and Mauryan chariots

These combats generally developed into a folk dance with sides moving to a fro, similar to blade versus blade. An extra element of psiloi was enough to bring an end by striking an exposed flank.

Scythed chariot longevity

Launched early during the battle, scythed chariots did survive long. They will flee if shot at or be eliminated if scoring less than in combat. They can however, eliminate Mauryan chariots and send cavalry fleeing, but this does carry a risk. Accepting the gamble, in five games, the scythed chariots did not see a turn three, but in one battle, they were held back for later use and inflicted casualties on the enemy.

Length of games

Playing 24 elements in a single command will take generally six to eight turns to complete. Only one game ended after seven turns, three required six turns to complete and two needed only four to reach a decision. Form the series, the Mauryan claimed one victory with the Seleucid sweeping the series. The games were intense and could equally have ended in favour of the other side.

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