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.   

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