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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Greatest Battles of the Roman-Persian Wars (Part 1)

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Perhaps the longest running rivalry in human history is between the Persians & Romans, and this article aims to give an insight into some of the battles between these two great powers.

The battle of Carrhae (May 6th, 53 BCE) 

The battle of Carrhae was a battle between the 40k-50k strong Roman force led by popular politician Crassus against the 10k strong Parthian force led by General Surena. the last two century consisted of relatively consistent fighting between the two powers ever since the decline of the Seleucid Empire, with the Seleucid Empire practically eliminated the two new powers of Rome & Parthia met in Mesopotamia and from there began the hostilities.

Crassus was a powerful and influential politician, having attained much wealth over the course of his career, however Crassus lacked one thing, Military glory. Crassus came to the conclusion that a military victory over a Parthian force would give great respect & fame across the Roman world, he assembled an army of over 40k-50k, consisting of roughly 30k Milites & the remainder being Auxiliaries.

Surena was a talented General under Shahanshah Orodes II, apart of the Suren Clan (one of the noble Parthian clans) Surena had great authority and power in the Parthian Empire, when Surena led his army to engage Crassus’ force he took with him 1000 Cataphracts and 9,000 horse archers and a consistent supply of arrows through Camels.

When the two forces engaged Crassus organized his forces into a hollow square with each side consisting of at least 12 cohorts, Surena on the other hand deployed a large array of harassment tactics in order to lure the enemy Legionaries out, when this was successful many Roman soldiers were slaughtered by a hailstorm of arrows, such would be the fate of Crassus’ son who mistakenly saw a Parthian retreat as genuine and pursued at his own risk only to be ambushed and hailed in arrows. The remainder of the battle consisted of constant Parthian harassment by Horse archers, this was possible through Surena’s camels supplying arrows, eventually swaths of Crassus’ army broke under the pressure and constant attrition & with the death his son Crassus’ to broke and soon killed by Surena. The repercussions of this battle are numerous to say the least, not only did this set a precedence for later conflicts between the two powers but it also largely caused the next Civil war in the Roman world which would lead it to becoming an empire.

 The Battle of Dara (530 CE) 

In 527 war ensued between the Byzantine Empire & the Sassanid Persians, the war was a reaction to Shah Kavadh’s attempts to convert the Kingdom of Iberia to the Zoroastrian faith, the Byzantines promptly declared war in 527 and a 25,000 strong force led by Flavius Belisarius & Sittas manned the fortress of Dara in 530.

Belisarius was a competent General and would prove himself later of the field against the Ostrogoth’s, however today he was defending the fortress of Dara against a larger Sasanian force, his army consisted of at least 600 Hunnic Cavalry (on the flanks), Heruli in an hidden position to ambush & a contingent of Bucellarii behind the centre as reserve.

The Sasanians at face value had a clear advantage, Perozes force started with 30,000 soldiers and gaining a further 10,000 as reinforcements from Nisibis. From what sources tell us the Sasanian force had a contingent of Zhayedan (Immortals), probably 10,000, we also know that the bulk of the Persian force consisted of basic Paighan band, Heavy Cataphracts, Javelins, Slingers & archers, from what we know the Persians did field some War Elephants as well.

Before the battle Belisarius dug a trench to negate the Persians cavalry advantage, on the first day the Persian left flank (consisting of Cataphracts) pushed against the Roman Right Flank (Hunnic contingent), however when the Hunnic Auxiliaries retreated the Persian force did not pursue fearing encirclement, the third day saw the bulk of the battle and the defeat of the Persian force as Perozes right flank of Cataphracts pushed to far and was encircled, with the destruction of the entire right Persian flank the Persian centre collapses and retreated, Belisarius was victorious.


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