Chapter 3 - An Army Divided
Spring, 256 B.C.
Wood splintered as iron struck the gates.
Dionysios watched as the people of Mazaka scrambled through the city streets. Women and children cowered in their homes while men grabbed their spears, donned their helms and raced to the walls
A large militia had been raised on the command of the Basileus, and his orders could not have been more prudent. An army from Seleukeia had besieged Mazaka for three seasons, and now they moved to recapture the city. Dionysios sneered. As a Kappadokos, he had been chosen to govern the greatest city of his homeland by Ariobarzanes himself, and he would rather die then give up that honor.
Dionysios cursed. His fool of a brother in law had traveled with an army to Bithynia, determined to capture a city which held no ill will towards the Kingdom of Pontos. Dionysios had begged Mithridates to remain in Kappadokia, but his cries fell upon deaf ears. The Koiranides was never one to listen to advice, but how could he ignore the obvious threat of retaliation. His hands clenched the shaft of his kontos. Dionysios' anger had festered since the siege began, but it was too late to hope for any assistance from his brother.
Soldiers thirsting for blood tore down the palisade walls which had been hastily constructed to defend the city, and the levies readied themselves for the inevitable struggle.
The forces of Seleukeia flooded through splintered wood, a deluge of men and metal longing for gold and glory, but the pantadapoi of the city held them off. A well aimed sarissa found the unprotected neck of an enemy. A strong arm forced a spear tip through the breastplate and into the beating heart of an attacker. A phalangite fell bloody to the ground, his Phrygian helmet shattered, cleaved apart by a single blow from a warrior's axe.
As the levies battled for the center of the city, Dionysios prepared himself. Fastening his helm and steadying his kontos, he rode behind the soldiers, shouting encouragement to the men who fought for the glory of Pontos, searching for a hole in the enemy line.
His eyes fell upon the soldiers guarding his left flank, and Dionysios knew it was time for action. The levies had managed to push the enemy away from the breach in the city walls, and the attackers looked ready to break rank and flee for their lives.
Sounding his horn, Dionysios gave the order. "Into the breach, kinsmen! Give them no quarter!" he called, his voice rising above the clamor of iron and bronze and dying men.
The enemy broke before the fearsome stampede of the kinsmen cavalry. Dropping their arms, they fled from the field with the kinsmen close behind...
...but the chase ended abruptly. With a furious charge, Zeuxis Lykikos brought his hetairoi into the fray. Dionysios dropped as a xyston thrust overhead. Deftly avoiding a fatal blow, he grabbed at the xyston with his free hand and lashed out at the rider, his blade carving past the bronze and between the ribs, and the man fell dying from his mount. The smell of blood filled the air, and he watched a kinsmen scream as iron bit into his forearm, severing the limb with a sickening thwack.
The screams of his men awakened memories long forgotten, and time stood still. He remembered the sight of blood, the mangled limbs, the smell of emptied bowels and piss stained tunics. The capture of Mazaka had been a bloody affair, and Dionysios knew the price of victory all too well.
Six years had passed since he entered the battle with fifty kinsmen, men who swore to die for him, and forty two men had been forced to fulfill their vows that day. Forty two companions who never returned to their wives and sons in Amaseia.
A resounding cry brought him to his senses, and he saw the remaining hetairoi flee before the might of the kinsmen cavalry. "Nike! Nike!" his companions cried. A kontos had managed to penetrate the hardened bronze armor of Zeuxis, and the once proud strategos lay lifeless in a pool of his own blood.
The death of their commander shattered the morale of the men fighting for Seleukeia, but as they turned to flee they became caught by the hoplites that broke through during Dionysios' charge. Spears greeted the soldiers from both sides, and panic descended upon them. The men of Seleukeia became sheep, the Pontikoi levies became butchers, and their bleating echoed through the narrow streets of Mazaka.
The enemy lay broken before the gates, and the corpse of Zeuxis rotted in the fields. The city had repelled the vicious assault, but Dionysios knew in his heart that the nobles of Seleukeia were hungry to devour Kappadokia and her people. This was only the beginning.
Winter, 256 B.C.
Ariobarzanes called for his servant to stoke the hearth. The young Kappadokos bowed and hurried to find kindling for the glowing fire which illuminated the chamber where the Basileus dined on roasted goat and red wine. A snow storm descended upon the city of Mazaka, but the temperament of the public felt far bitterer than any winter gale. The people of Kappadokia were of hardy stock, but surviving two sieges in one year was a difficult stone to swallow.
Draining his glass, Ariobarzanes began to recall the events which brought him to Mazaka. The first siege had been beaten back by the bravery of the Pontikoi militia, but the assault left the city in a precarious position. A letter from Dionysios arrived at his palace that spring, urging the Basileus to reinforce the city, and Ariobarzanes felt compelled to acknowledge his son in law’s request. His support could not have come sooner. Within weeks of his arrival, the Basileus found himself surrounded by a Seleukid army, and he knew that the four hundred men who marched with him would be desperately needed to repel the attackers.
The sound of footsteps disturbed his thought. The Basileus looked up, expecting to see his servant enter the chamber with more firewood, but Dionysios appeared in his stead. Pulling out a chair and pouring an extra drink, Ariobarzanes motioned for his son to come and share his meal beside him.
“Hail, Basileus! I am truly honored to share your company.” His speech was stilted, and he awkwardly grabbed the silver rhyton from Ariobarzanes’ outstretched hand. Sniffing the dark red liquid, he gave an apprehensive sip.
Ariobarzanes frowned. Dionysios was never one to forget his manners in front of the Basileus, but the king wasn’t interested in flatteries tonight. “Sit down and finish your drink. You fought like a man today, and I’ll be damned if you start acting like a womanish deserter in front of your father!” Recognizing his temper, the aging king composed himself. “Excuse me, Dionysios. Perhaps your king has had too much to drink tonight.”
Taking a deeper sip, Dionysios sat down in the chair besides Ariobarzanes. “There is nothing to excuse, Basileus. You have won a great victory today. Surely you’ve earned your wine tonight?”
“Yes, perhaps I have. Tell me, what are the soldiers saying about me tonight?”
Dionysios smiled. “To be honest, they didn’t believe their Basileus was capable of such feats of strength anymore.”
Ariobarzanes stared blankly at Dionysios, and the young man’s smile disappeared as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, after a long moment, the old man erupted in raucous laughter. “So they didn’t think I had it in me, eh? Thought their old king was too pampered to fight for his kingdom anymore?”
Dionysios’ smile returned. “No doubt they made the same mistake as poor Euteles.”
The Basileus scoffed. “Poor Euteles? His fortune is likely worth half our kingdom!” He flashed a vulgar grin. “Or perhaps it was worth half our kingdom?”
The playful remark finally brought laughter to the stoic Dionysios. “I’ve heard the kinsmen tell the story a dozen times already, but I’d like to hear it from you, father.”
Easing back in his chair, Ariobarzanes swallowed his third glass of wine in a single swig. “You remember when we separated during the battle?”
Dionysios nodded. “You ordered me to assault the enemy rear while you chased off their cavalry.”
The Basileus continued while pouring himself another draft. “Chase wouldn’t be the word I would use. The hetairoi fought like madmen, and none of the enemy fought with more valor than Euteles Demetriados Assyriakes. Even as hetairoi died around him, his iron xiphos cut through our kinsmen, and his mighty shield deflected the strongest of blows. Jahan and Khorvash fell before him, and even the mighty Navid was wounded by his awful fury.”
Dionysios leaned forward while the king took another sip. He paused, and stared into his cup for a moment before continuing. “I couldn’t stand the sight of my kinsmen dying before me. I knew that I had to act, but I won’t lie to you. I was terrified.” His voice had become a whisper. “I prodded my horse and charged behind him with my kopis held tight. If I had missed my mark, I wouldn’t be here today, but thank the gods for watching over me. My aim found the opening in his armor, his unprotected neck, and I brought down my blade with all of my strength. I felt the iron cut straight through his collarbone, breaking his upper ribs and opening a horrible gash.”
“I watched the blood pour out from his wound, and he turned with a look of surprise on his face. It was then that our kinsmen startled his horse, which reared and threw off its mighty rider.” He drained his final cup. “He was dead before he even touched the ground.”
For awhile they sat in near silence, listening only to the crackling embers of the dying hearth. Finally, after a long while, Ariobarzanes stood. “Thank you.”
Dionysios raised a cautious eyebrow. “Thank you for what?”
The Basileus sighed. “For being the man that I find worthy enough to call my son.”