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.

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