Tuesday 31 October 2023

Mithridates I invades Bactria

Mithridates I, King of Parthia, eyed the civil unrest in the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and its current wars with Sogdia, Drangiana and India, as a heaven-sent opportunity to expand its empire. Sometime between 163–155 BC, Mithridates I invaded the domains of Eucratides and met the Greco-Bactrian army near Aria, ideal cavalry country covered with scrub and low hills.

Game one

Bactria deployed lancers and cavalry to either side of its infantry corps, the latter comprised of the phalanx, thureophoroi, elephants and skirmishers. Forming a second line, to protect the army’s flanks, were the Saka horse archers and more lancers.

The Parthian army deployed in two groups, placed separately to avoid the encumbrance of scrub. Forming two division, each comprised an equal number of light horse and cataphract.

Eager for battle, both sides advanced forward, the Bactrian phalanx aiming straight for the Parthian, their attack would be supported by the cavalry wing on its left. On the Bactrian right, the heavy cavalry goaded the Parthian horse archers by feigning a retreat to reach the second line.

The Parthian horse archer’s pursuit of the heavies also drew its supporting units as per orders quickly filling the ‘net’ with Parthian cavalry. Would the ‘net’ hold or burst open, that was the question. The Bactrian general made a silent prayer.

Bactrian resistance to contain the ‘net’ was helped by lancers returning to the fight. Elsewhere, the phalanx, supported by elephants, repulsed enemy horse archers and the cavalry battle on the left flank evolved into a slogging match.

The slogging match turned in favour of Bactria with the elimination of all the cataphract, to include their sub-general.

The right flank in shambles, the centre repulsed and success equally out of reach on the left, the Parthian general called a retreat. A victory for Bactria 8 – 5.


Game two

Deploying in a similar manner, the Bactrian positioned its infantry with cavalry support to the right of the scrub, leaving the remainder of the cavalry to position itself among the gentle hills on the left.

Seeing the deployment, Parthia amassed all the cataphract to face the Bactrian centre and right flank, leaving a thin screen of horse archers to face the Bactrian left.

The Bactrian advance became delayed through a fault in signals (low pip scores), but unaffected by such problems, the Parthian steadily advanced to close the distance between battle lines.

The mis-communication was a severe setback as the Bactrian received the Parthian charge at the halt, something cavalry should never do.

To everyone’s surprise, both assaults were repulsed as the Bactrian phalanx and cavalry held their ground. Their respite was short lived as a second charge proved fatal, destroying the Bactrian centre and right. In disbelief, the Bactrian commander starred at a wall of armoured horse approaching and called for a general retreat. A decisive Parthian victory, 8 – 1.


Game one was a tight game with both sides losing their sub-generals on successive bounds. This proved less a problem for both sides as Parthian light horse able to carry on without their commander and the Bactrian CinC held control over the army due to its compact deployment.

Game two was an absolute disaster for the Bactrian. Three successive bounds with a pip score of one meant the Bactrian were nothing more than spectators to their own funeral. Repulsing the two assaults came as a complete surprise, equally so, was the annihilation of one-third of the Bactrian army in two successive bounds.   

Thursday 26 October 2023

Bactria crosses the Indus

Following the demise of the Mauryan dynasty by the Shunga, Demetrius, the son of Euthydemus, invaded the subcontinent in 180 BC. The motivation for the invasion is debated by historians, but some suggest the invasion was intended to show their support for the Mauryan empire. Sources remain sketchy, nonetheless, Demetrius may have reached the imperial capital of Pataliputra, completing the campaign by 175 BC. This benchmarks the origin of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which lasted for almost two centuries. 

Game one

Shunga forces are positioned east of the Indus, in an area covered by woods (3x) and marshes (2x). All Shunga infantry interspersed with heavy chariotry formed the first line with elephants protecting the flanks. Forming a separate corps, the Shunga cavalry were positioned on the far right. 

Demetrius’s plan was simple, pin the enemy left with his infantry and pierce the enemy line with his cavalry, between their right wing and right centre.

As expected, the Shunga cavalry opened the battle bringing the elephant corps in support.

The Shunga archers readied themselves to shoot the advancing pike as they entered the killing zone. On the right, the Shunga cavalry engaged the Bactrian horse archers and heavy cavalry.

The cavalry clash continued, neither side gaining an advantage, however, a greater threat developed when the Shunga elephant corps moved to derail Bactrian plans. To delay the inevitable, Iranian lancers made a suicidal charge intending to disrupt their advance. Meanwhile, Bactrian pike supported by elephants were able to breach the Shunga battle line.

The breakthrough by Bactrian elephants threatened to roll up the Shunga left flank prompting the Shunga commander to counter charge. This put the Bactrian elephants to route, but the direction of flight was not as intended. The consequence, Demetrios was presented with an 8 – 6 victory in five turns.

Game two

Deploying on a narrow front, the Shunga army positioned its infantry and chariotry as before. Elephants formed a second line with cavalry evenly distributed on both flanks. 

Demetrios planned a similar assault, infantry leading, but this time, the cavalry was evenly distributed on both flanks. The Bactrian light horse formed a group and would encircle the Shunga line and draw off their reserves.

The Shunga battle line advance slowly forward and Demetrios countered by wheeling a portion of the army and proceeded with the encircling maneuver.

The battle did not take long to heat up, Shunga archers on the right rained havoc among the Bactrian cavalry, but elsewhere, the Shunga were feeling the pressure of the Bactrian assault.

Due to Shunga archery, the Bactrian left was now in shambles. To relieve the situation, Demetrios charged the heavy chariotry destroying it, then struck the Shunga archers in flank. In centre, the Bactrian pike pierced the Shunga line sending others recoiling.

The battle field became littered with small combats putting the Shunga in no condition to recover. Demetrios, displaying a demon-like fury, forced the Shunga commander to contemplate his navel and call a retreat. Another 8 - 6 victory for Demetrios. 


Game one ended on a bizarre note. The decision to attack the Bactrian elephant, forcing it to turn to flank, was a blunder of the first order. Thinking a simple recoil would destroy the Bactrian cavalry to its rear, the consequence of flight was not foreseen. This quickly ended the battle on turn five.

Game two was a beast of game requiring ten turns to complete. By turn seven, the Bactrian were well behind with a score 5 – 2. Turn eight, the magic happened as the pike did their handy work and Demetrios played “Rambo”, destroying three elements with the Shunga rajah looking on.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Antiochus III against the Bactrians

In the year 209 BC, Antiochus marched to Bactria to supress a revolt. During the rebellion, the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus I had supplanted the original rebel and met Antiochus near the river Arius. King Euthydemus’s defeat and subsequent siege of his capital Bactra (Balkh), forced a capitulation. Obtaining an honourable peace, Antiochus promised Euthydemus's son Demetrius the hand of Laodice, his daughter. - Polybius, the Histories.

Primarily a cavalry action, the Battle of the Arius offered an opportunity to refight the action using 24 elements a side. To reach the necessary number for the Bactrian Army (list II/36a), both options were used to build a mix of foot and mounted. Simulating the possible terrain features, three difficult hills and two wood were positioned by the defender.

Game one

Bactria defending, placed the bulk of its cavalry to the right of the phalanx and deployed the remainder of the cavalry on the left flank. To compensate its smaller cavalry force, the Seleucid placed all the elephants and scythed chariots to meet the Bactrian right and press home its larger phalanx against the Bactrian centre.

No sooner had the battle began, Bactrian plans quickly became a shambles as Seleucid elephants and chariotry routed the cavalry on the right flank.

The Seleucid phalanx overpowered Bactrian centre bringing a quick end to the battle, 9 – 5+Sch.


Game two

This time, the Bactrian cavalry was positioned better to counter the Seleucid elephants and chariotry and spacing between the centre and both wings would provide room to maneuver. In addition, the entire light horse would encircle the Seleucid army to strike its rear.

Seeing the change in deployment, the Seleucid dispersed its elephants and chariotry to either side of the phalanx.

The Bactrian advance was slow to allow time for the light horse to complete their encircling maneuver.

Seeing the Bactrian army idle, the Seleucid as the phalanx bored down on the Bactrian centre.

The clash of pikes quickly evolved into a shoving match, with both sides inflicting casualties on their respective flanks.

The Bactrian light horse encircled the Seleucid army but were met by a detachment of psiloi. The two units of psiloi stood their ground, frustrating Bactrian plans. Their delay had cost the battle; 10 – 8 + SCh.  


The second game played much better. The Bactrian cavalry was better employed and sufficient space allowed fleeing cavalry room to recover. The Bactrian missed an opportunity to wreak havoc on the weaker Seleucid flanks. The determined resistance by the psiloi repelled the Bactrian light horse, thus gain time for the Seleucid centre to win the day.

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.