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Thread: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

  1. #1

    Default The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    This AAR purports to be a historical piece detailing the conflict between an emerging (player controlled) Sabaean kingdom and the Ptolemies, who are, at the start of it, the greatest power in the campaign, having driven the Seleucids back to the Euphrates. It starts around 235BC, though the introduction provides a summary of my actions up to that point.

    I: Introduction

    The origins of the conflict know generally as the Erythrean Wars cannot be dated precisely. It is known that the complex polity of Saba' had achieved hegemony over all the coasts of Arabia under the warrior-king Yazil Il Watar by around 250 BCE, stopped only in the North by the Nabataean Kingdom, which was a vassal of the Lagid (Ptolemaic) Dynasty of Egypt.

    However, the date at which Sabyn rule extended to Africa is less certain. Ptolemaic sources mention ca. 244 BCE that the new king of Aksum sent an embassy to Ptolemaios III “having received his kingship by the Sabaioi”; while Sabyn inscriptions record an Arabian noble, Sha'ram Ali, being appointed “protector of D'mat” in 241 or 240 BCE. Also in 240 BCE, the Greek traveller Diogenes refers to Adulis, the chief port of the Aksumite kingdom, as being “a port and market of the Sabaioi, opposite their homeland over the Erythrean Sea”.

    Yazil Il Watar died in 245 BCE. This is known precisely thanks to a monumental inscription left in Gerrha upon his death, listing his conquests and lamenting that after more than twenty years away from Ma'rib and the Wadi Dhana, he died without seeing his home again. We can then suppose that D'mat was brought under direct rule from Saba' under the reign of his son and successor, Halik Il Watar. Halik did not personally lead campaigns in Africa, though inscriptions record several Sabyn military expeditions into the interior, and at some point during his reign the wealthy kingdom of MeroŽ began sending tributes to Saba'.

    At the same time, the Ptolemaic dynasty, having defeated their Seleukid rivals in the Syrian Wars and become embroiled in a series of fruitless conflicts in Asia Minor, periodically turned their eyes South. They had advanced fairly far along the Eythraian Sea coast, but were checked in the interior by the Kushite kingdom of MeroŽ.

    II: Opening Moves

    By 235BCE, Greek sources record that Ptolemaios III had sent several expeditions into Kush, without success, and Sabyn inscriptions record that their ally, the king of MeroŽ, appealed for their assistance, whereupon he received men and arms to defeat his foes at the same time.

    Thus, the Erythrean Wars had begun by 235 BCE at the latest. However, the first known major campaign took place the following year. The Lagid general Polemaios Korykios marched south along the Nile with a large army. MeroŽ urgently requested the assistance of its Sabyn overlords against this full-scale invasion.

    Halik dispatched a nobleman, Luhay'ath Amar Watar, from the city of Haram, to raise an army in Africa and relieve MeroŽ. Greek sources describe his army as consisting of “many Sabaioi and Araboi, great numbers of Aithiopoi subject to them and Troglodytai who came as mercenaries”.

    Polemaios originally encountered resistances only in the form of ambushes against his scouts and harassment of his column, and concluded that the Meroites would not dare face him in the field. Accordingly, he divised his army in two parts, a small scouting force he sent to the right bank of the Nile, and the much larger main force he kept on the left bank. MeroŽ being on the right bank, he encamped his army opposite the city and directed his advance force to circle around the city, in the hope of finding a weakness in the walls. However, by accident or by design, Luhay'ath arrived as this was in progress, and the Ptolemaic forces on the right bank were caught between the Kushite and Sabyn armies, and destroyed.

    Following this, it seemed to Polemaios that the Sabyn soldiers were entering the city, so he retired his main army to its camp. However, while the city was loudly celebrating the victory, in fact Luhay'ath marched South with substantial Meroitic forces added to his own, and crossed the Nile under cover of darkness, at a place the natives indicated to him. The following dawn, Polemaios found himself trapped against the river.

    Little is known of the actual battle, although it is believed that numbers were on the Sabyn/Kushite side, while the Ptolemaic troops were much more heavily armed. At any rate, Polemaios Korykios was killed during the fighting, and the debris of his army staggered back to Egypt several months later.

    This battle of MeroŽ became famous, for it was the first time such a strong Hellenistic force had been defeated in Kush and the first victory of the Sabyn over the Hellenes. It was probably not the first time the two powers clashed, but it was the first great battle between them, and the first to impress ancient historians. It also ensured that both kingdoms made the war their priority.

    The following year, the Egyptians made an expedition into Arabia from their garrison at Petra, the Nabataean capital. They did not record its fate; Sabyn inscriptions record a victory in the North of their realm around that time, without more precisions. In all probability, the heavily armed invaders were worn down by harassment as they tried to follow the caravan roads South. However, also in 233, Hellenistic privateers captured several Sabyn trade ships near the Bab el Mandeb.

    The Sabyn then took the offensive, occupying Ptolemaic lands in Erythraia in 233 or 232. Several conflicting dates are given, although this is not incoherent as the boundaries of Lagid Erythraia were never well defined. At any rate, by mid-232 at the latest, a strip of Ptolemaic territory along the Erythrean Sea had fallen without serious resistance to the Sabyn, including Ptolemais Theron, the main elephant station of the Lagid kingdom.

    At the same time, Apollodoros, a Rhodian, became the first Hellene known to have entered Sabyn service. He left an account of his adventures; he had been a minor naval commander for the Polis of Rhodes in the war against Makedonia and the Seleukids. During a trading expedition to Timna, the Qataban metropolis, he offered his services to Halik Il Watar, proposing to help the Sabyn build a navy capable of taking on the Hellenistic powers at sea.

    Until then, according to Apollodoros' writings, the Sabyn only knew how to build small ships (κέρκουροι, in Greek), but Apollodoros established larger shipyards capable of producing triereis and tetrereis. By late 232BCE, the Sabyn had a fleet of 12 triereis in the Erythrean Sea, backed by numerous smaller vessels. This was the first real Sabyn royal navy.

    The Lagids were not idle either that year, and a Ptolemaic column plundered parts of D'mat, but withdrew when faced by a much larger force under Sha'ram Ali, the Sabyn protecter of D'mat.

    The Sabyn sent envoys to the Nabataeans, hoping to induce them to rebel against their Egypto-Makedonian overlords, but the Nabataeans rejected these overtures.

    III. The Battle of Ptolemais Theron

    The first well-documented major clash of the Erythrean Wars occurred at Ptolemais Theron, in the spring of 231 BCE. A Ptolemaic army of some 13,000 men under Hermogenes advanced South along the coastline, aiming to recapture the elephant and trading station. Hermogenes hoped the Hellenic community of Ptolemais Theron would welcome them with open arms. However, the ethnically mixed polis had been well treated by the Sabyn, and particularly enjoyed lower taxes and easier trade.

    Instead of revolting and joining Hermogenes, the citizens of Ptolemais Theron alerted Luhay'ath Amar Watar, the Sabyn general who had already faced the Egyptians at MeroŽ, of the Ptolemaic approach. Luhay'ath managed to forced march his army into Ptolemais before Hermogenes could completely encircle the town.

    The Sabyn commander hoped to be reinforced by several thousand soldiers marching to join him from D'mat; unbeknownst to him, however, this column had been ambushed by Kushite rebels, perhaps incited by the Ptolemies. While the rebels were defeated and scattered, the Sabyn reinforcements were significantly delayed by this battle.

    With no news of the troops from D'mat, and observing that the numbers were roughly even, Luhay'ath decided to chance a general engagement rather than wait; opening the gates of Ptolemais, he started arraying his army for battle.

    Both generals were confident in their troops. The backbone of Hermogenes' force was a nine thousand man phalanx, of which a third were veteran Hellenic professional soldiers, half were native Egyptians, and the rest Hellenic soldiers of lesser standing. The phalanx was supported by some two hundred thureophoroi, mobile spearmen, and sixteen hundred veteran Galatian mercenaries. The remained of his army was made up of two to three thousand pantodapoi, meaning conscripts from conquered lands. With the exception of the pantodapoi, the Ptolemaic army was well equipped, well organised, well trained, and mostly experienced. Its main weakness was the utter lack of archers, as neither army had any sizeable force of cavalry. Hermogenes arrayed the phalanx in a single deep line, with the thureophoroi guarding either flank, the Galatians forming his vanguard and the pantodapoi guarding his baggage.

    Luhay'ath's army was much lighter; the only truly armoured soldiers at his disposal were his Sabyn swordsmen, numbering somewhat less than one thousand. He positioned himself with them, in the centre of his formation. He distributed about two thousand men from the tribes of Saba' armed with bows and spears to either side of his swordsmen, and fifteen hundred Saharan mercenaries in a line in front of them. These Saharans were fierce men, armed with spears, javelins and shields, but quite unarmoured. Directly behind the main Sabyn body, he placed one thousand reliable Ethiopian spearmen in reserve. Two forces of about one thousand Aksumite swordsmen each were on his wings; these swordsmen had javelins, helmets and shields, but no armour. Finally, on his far right he put a swarm of nomadic Arab tribesmen, armed with little more than slings and knives; and on his far left, a compact mass of two thousand Ethiopian and five hundred Sabyn bowmen, covered by one thousand Ethiopian spearmen.

    Luhay'ath's forces were much more lightly armed than their enemies, but they were for the most part highly experienced and dedicated veterans of his previous campaigns. He had plenty of missile troops, his entire army was mobile and he could rely on competent subordinate commanders. Although the numbers were roughly equal, his front was far longer than his opponent's and constantly threatened to outflank Hermogenes.

    The battle began shortly before noon, with the indisciplined Arab slingers racing for Hermogenes' flank while the rest of the Sabyn army progressed slowly towards the Ptolemaic positions. Not wanting to leave his left flank exposed, Hermogenes ordered his phalanx to pivot and turn its shields towards the Arabs. While his main force attempted to protect themselves both from the slingers on their flank and the archers in front of them, the Galatians, being more advanced and more exposed to arrows since the morning, lost their patience and charged head first. Luhay'ath's front line rushed to meet them, and the impetuous Celts eagerly started cutting down the more lightly armed Saharans.

    However, what the Gallic mercenaries didn't see was clear to Hermogenes: as they were driving back the Saharans, the Aksumites were manoeuvring to encircle them, while the Sabyn heavy infantry stood by to intercept any Galatians that broke through. Hermogenes knew he needed to support his errant mercenaries, but was loath to commit his phalanx to joining a disordered fight that would expose its flanks. He attempted to compromise by sending a runner to the pantodapoi, ordering them to join the fight. By now, he had bowmen to his right and in front of him and slingers to his left, and no matter how he turned the phalanx some soldiers would be exposed to missile fire.

    By the time the pantodapoi arrived, the Galatians were surrounded and taking heavy casualties, but they still held on, inflicting also heavy casualties on their opponents. The pantodapoi attempted to charge and relieve them, but were in turn charged in the flank by Ethiopian spearmen, Luhay'ath's reserves. Poorly armed, barely trained, the conscripts routed rapidly. Realising now that he risked losing a large part of his army if he didn't attack, Hermogenes ordered one taxis (battalion) of Egyptian phalangites and his thureophoroi to run up and support the Galatians, while the rest of the phalanx advanced towards the enemy left wing in perfect order, after having gathered up and rallied the fleeing pantodapoi. However, even in the advance he kept another taxis facing the slingers, who had now completely overlapped his left flank.

    The phalangites and thureophoroi initially made progress, almost breaking through to the Galatians. However, the Sabyn light infantry, having by now exhausted their quivers, marched around the melee and attacked the phalangites in their rear, which was no longer covered. Some Saharans, having backed out of the fight to rest, did the same on their flank, while the reserve of Ethiopian spearmen again went in, this time checking the phalangites' advance. Thus completely surrounded, the Egyptians gave a good account of themselves for a while, before their formation broke and they began surrendering in large numbers.

    In the meantime, Luhay'ath had finally committed his heavy infantry against the tough Galatian veterans, relieving some of his Aksumite warbands. The pantodapoi made a second attempt to join the fight, and these Aksumites charged them; the conscripts routed rapidly again, and this time didn't stop running until the battlefield was far behind them.

    With most of the opposing centre now freed up, Hermogenes pivoted his phalanx again, unwilling to expose a flank to these troops. Seizing their chance, the troops on the Sabyn left wing advanced. The Ethiopian archers passed their few remaining arrows to the Arabian bowmen and, arming themselves with clubs, joined their spearmen in enveloping the Ptolemaic right flank. In desperation, Hermogenes now ordered his elite Hellenic veterans, which formed his centre, to try and break his right flank free.

    Unfortunately for him, this was the moment the Galatians finally broke, attempting to flee for their lives, though most were struck down. Seeing the enemy centre wheeling and moving in front of him, Luhay'ath led all available soldiers in a furious charge.

    The resistance of the enveloped Ptolemaic right flank collapsed. The left flank, although it had only taken casualties from missiles so far, withdrew in relative good order rather than allow itself to be surrounded. The centre, the best part of the phalanx, held out for a while, but swarmed on all sides, unsupported and with no hope of victory, ended up collapsing in turn. That evening, Hermogenes committed suicide
    Last edited by Miaow; 03-07-2013 at 22:06.

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  2. #2
    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Interesting. I like the style.

    Welcome to the .Org, and to EB .
    Looking for a good read? Visit the Library!

  3. #3

    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Thank you, Ludens! :) I haven't made many screenshots yet because it's quite cumbersome with R:TW, unfortunately.

    IV: The Wider World

    To provide the context of the Erythrean Wars, it is necessary to consider the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf areas at the time. The following map shows the various powers in the area at the time of the battle of Ptolemais Theron:

    The European portion of Alexander's former empire had been stable for several decades, after Pyrrhos I had united the kingdoms of Epeiros and Makedon. His descendants in the Aiakid dynasty easily established their hegemony over Greece, bringing relative peace to the area. Their successful ventures in Megale Hellas (Southern Italy) and Sicily are thought to have caused Rome's Northwards expansion, though that is beyond the scope of this history.

    The Asian portions, however, were in turmoil. After a decade of wandering during which only a few islands acknowledged him as king, Demetrios II, son of Antigonos II Gonatas (the former king of Makedon, deposed by Pyrrhos) and descendent of Antigonos I Monophthalmos, had succeeded in carving a realm for himself along the Western coast of Mikra Asia, also know as Asia Minor. Meanwhile, Mithridates of Pontos and his successors, taking advantage of the Seleukids distraction with the Syrian Wars, conquered almost all of Northern Mikra Asia. After Byzantion became de facto a Pontic vassal, the kings of Pontos were even able to expand into Southern Thrace.

    The invading Galatians were able to establish themselves as an independant power based at Ankyra, the site of one their great victories, while the Satrap of Ipsos ruled Phrygia, officially as part of the Seleukid Empire, though in practice he was left largely to his own devices. The Southern coast of Mikra Asia fell under the rule of the Ptolemies, and almost all the Caucasus area was under Armenian rule, though further North the nomadic Sarmatians were a threatening power.

    The Seleukids, though collapsing in the West, had succeeded in vigorously pushing East and reclaiming much of the lost lands of Alexander in what was then called "Upper Asia". This happened at the expense of the nomadic Parni and their own former vassals and satraps, though the Baktrian kingdom retained some of its territory as an independant power.

    However, the main power in the East was the Lagid Empire of the Ptolemies. In a succession of Syrian Wars, the Ptolemies had taken city after city, province after province from the Seleukids. By 240 BCE they held all of Syria, and concurrently with the start of the Erythrean Wars had pushed into Mesopotamia, occupying Seleukeia on the Tigris, although the Seleukids retained control of Babylonia. However, Seleukos III was forced to relocate his capital East, to Apameia.

    The Ptolemaic Empire was truly the greatest power at this point; Egypt and Syria were both very wealthy, and the Nile valley provided them with an unending supply of manpower. Their empire was more cohesive than the heterogenous one of the Seleukids, which is believed to be the main reason for Lagid success over their rivals.

    Meanwhile, the Sabyn were the first true power to emerge out of Arabia in history. Their kingdom, while covering a very large area (most of the Peninsula) was for the most part sparsely populated. Their main source of wealth was the monopoly on production and trade of frankincense and myrrh, as well as control of one of only two know trade routes to India. Furthermore, they possessed several mines of silver, tin, salt and copper, exploited a gold mine in Ma'in, and in Africa controlled the gold mines of Aksum. Their client kingdom of MeroŽ (shown as part of Saba' on the map) held the most productive gold mines in the world at that point, and sent much of this fabled "Nubian gold" to Saba' every year as tribute. The Sabyn breadbasket was in their heartland, the Wadi Dhana and surrounding valleys, which produced a large surplus in this period, allowing them to feed their empire.

    However, despite all their wealth, the Sabyn realm was much less populous than that of the Ptolemies, and could not rivalise economically with the bounty of Egypt and the Syrian ports. They did have a relative internal peace, thanks mainly to religious propaganda and complex but effective political structures, which assimilated the other tribes and peoples as fictional kinsmen of Saba', and as such "cousins" that might quarrel among themselves, but ought to present an united front to foreigners. This was in stark contrast to the Ptolemies, who struggled to impose their Hellenistic culture on the Egyptians and the Semitic peoples of Syria, and also had to split their forces onto multiple fronts, due to conflict with the Seleukids and the need to check Pontic and Armenian ambitions; although the Sabyn themselves had to contend with the size of their territory and communications made difficult by deserts.

    Trade and embassies had long been exchanged between the Seleukids and the Sabyn, but it was not until after the battle of Ptolemais Theron that Seleukos III Alexandros was willing to enter into an official alliance with Saba', against their common enemy.
    Last edited by Miaow; 03-08-2013 at 00:18.

  4. #4
    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Quote Originally Posted by Miaow View Post
    I haven't made many screenshots yet because it's quite cumbersome with R:TW, unfortunately.
    Have you tried the freeware version of FRAPS?
    Looking for a good read? Visit the Library!

  5. #5

    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ludens View Post
    Interesting. I like the style.

    Welcome to the .Org, and to EB .
    Agreed, very well written piece.

  6. #6

    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Great writing!
    "Who fights can lose, who doesn't fight has already lost."
    - Pyrrhus of Epirus

    "Durch diese hohle Gasse muss er kommen..."
    - Leonidas of Sparta

    "People called Romanes they go the House"
    - Alaric the Visigoth

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ludens View Post
    Have you tried the freeware version of FRAPS?
    I've just found that with RTW in windowed mode, it gets alot easier :)

    V: Battle of the Barkah River and Intermission
    The year after their defeat at Ptolemais Theron, 230 BCE, the Ptolemies made another attempt to regain the lost elephant station. Thirty Pentekonteroi, fifty-oared galleys, were rapidly assembled on the Erythrean Sea, while a land force of twelve thousand men was organised, including three thousand “Agema” elite pikemen and six hundred mounted Hetairoi, the best fighters in the Ptolemaic kingdom. The rest of the army was made up of native Egyptian, levied and armed in the Makedonian style. The ships were under the command of Dyonisodoros, with an experienced general, Polyarchos Euhemeraios, in overall command.

    The Lagid forces progressed South along the coastline. However, some distance from Ptolemais, they encountered four Sabyn vessels that had been raiding along the coastline. Dyonisodors attacked with his pentekonteroi and captured three of them, but the fourth escaped and warned the Sabyn of the coming attack.

    Luhay'ath Amar Watar was again in charge of defending the Sabyn gains, this time in conjunction with the admiral Sharmah. His army had been strengthened with numerous fresh troops, mainly Ethiopians, so that he had some twenty-three thousand men ready for action; the Sabyn fleet had twelve triereis, built with the aid of the Hellene Apollodoros, and about a hundred smaller vessels.

    The Sabyn army and fleet met at the mouth of the river Barkah, just North of Ptolemais, early in the summer of 230BCE. However, Luhay'ath kept his forces some distance inland, so that Polyarchos came to position himself between the Sabyn and the sea.

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    Ptolemaic Agema and Hetairoi by the sea (detail of an Alexandrian mosaic)

    Luhay'ath was then able to hem the Ptolemaic army between the river and the sea, while Sharmah's fleet engaged Dyonisodoros. Thanks to the larger triereis, the centre of the pentekonteroi's line was promptly broken. Meanwhile, on land Polyarchos' forces were subject to a barrage of arrows and stones from Sabyn soldiers, who held higher ground. With the enemy fleet now coming to threaten his rear and casualties mounting, Polyarchos had little choice but to attack uphill.

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    Ptolemaic pikemen march uphill, under arrow fire

    Leading a charge with the Hetairoi, Polyarchos was met by a line of fierce Saharan spearmen and soon enveloped by enemy troops. Seeking to cut his way out of the melťe and charge again, Polyarchos was pulled off his horse by an Ethiopian soldier and killed.

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    Death of Polyarchos (artist's impression)

    Demoralised by the loss of the heavy cavalry and marching uphill under a burning sun and a rain of arrows, his army soon faltered under the Sabyn counter-attack. Although the Ptolemaic Agema fought to the death, the masses of Egyptian pikemen soon routed and fled into the river or the sea, where many drowned or were captured by the Sabyn fleet and sold into slavery. According to a history penned by Heron of Alexandria, only nine men made it back to Egypt safely.

    This disaster prompted the government of Ptolemaios III to open negotiations and declare a ceasefire. The Sabyn, interested in trade rather than conquest, originally went along, despite the advice of their Seleukid allies. This lull in the Erythrean Wars allowed Ptolemaios to focus his efforts on Mesopotamia, and his forces captured Babylon in 229 BCE, forcing the Seleukids to withdraw beyond the Tigris.

    However, due to the still ongoing embargo in Egypt, Charax Spasinou had become the chief outlet for Sabyn trade and numerous Sabyn subjects lived in Characene. When the Ptolemies sacked the city, many Sabyn were molested and their warehouses looted. Worse, a priest of Almaqah, the Sabyn national deity, who ministered to the expatriate community, was killed, as well as a personal friend of Rab il Watar, lord of Gerrha and eldest child of the king Halik il Watar. This led to negotiations breaking down and a resumption of the war.

    P.S. yes, I know, my mosaic doesn't look like an actual mosaic, more like a picture that was damaged. Oh well.
    Last edited by Miaow; 03-18-2013 at 20:25.

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  8. #8
    Member Member Vlad-Tudor's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Really well written. Looking forward

  9. #9
    Speaker of Truth Senior Member Moros's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    Quote Originally Posted by Miaow View Post
    [...]Which assimilated the other tribes and peoples as fictional kinsmen of Saba', and as such "cousins" that might quarrel among themselves, but ought to present an united front to foreigners.
    That is actually rather historically correct, kudos!

  10. #10

    Default Re: The Erythrean Wars (a Saba AAR)

    C'est trŤs touchant! j'aimerais m'y trouver dans chaque instant de l'histoire.
    h‚te de lire une autre svp
    Last edited by MaryseDesforges; 06-17-2021 at 09:23.


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