Empire: 280 BC to 271 BC

Seleucus, having regained Syria in 286 BC could either have moved east against the Antigonids in Asia or west to regain Bactria. Planning was well underway when Seleucus was assinated in 281 BC, aged 77. Control of the Empire however passed without incident to Antiochus who in 279 BC, at the head of a significant army, advanced east intent on crushing Andragoras II, King of Bactria.

Andragoras was now well established in the sprawling province. Initially the Seleucid invasion proceeded well with a number of smaller cities being bought to heel. However, in the Autumn of 278 BC the Seleucid army was caught by Andragoras who himself had determined to bring the Seleucids to battle, rather than risk further devastation to his kingdom. Andragoras attacked quickly while before the Seleucids were fully deployed. Antiochus countered and expanded his left rapidly while resting his right on an area of rocky ground.

Soon the Bactrians were in a precarious situation with their own right under heavy pressure and their pachyderms giving ground. Andragoras, desperate to stabilise the situation, ordered forward a number of his heavy cavalry in the centre. Unbelievably the Seleucid centre, comprising phalangites, began to crumble. Both commanders now threw in reserves, but Antiochus was unable to stabilise the situation and the Seleucid line collapsed. Antiochus, as with his father before him, was forced to abandon Bactria.

Meanwhile to the west of the Seleucids the Antigonids were also suffering revolts. In 279 BC the province of Pontus, stripped of Antigonid troops, erupted in revolt. Instead of eliminating these revolts Demetrius focussed his efforts to securing Macedonia. In 277 BC the Antigonid army moved from Thracia into Macedonia.

Macedonia had seen many Kings since Alexander’s death and believing that Pyrrhus’ position in Macedonia was weak, Demetrius felt confident that a quick victory would secure him the old capital and the legitimacy that would provide. In the late Summer of 276 BC the two armies deployed for battle on an open plain. Demetrius’ army comprising a core of Macedonians was bolstered by a number of mercenaries, while Pyrrhus drew his support from Macedonians, Epirotes and Greeks. In addition both armies deployed some 50 elephants.

Demetrius struck first moving decisively towards the left Macedonia right flank targeting Pyrrhus. In a series of clashes Pyrrhus was first isolated and then wounded. As he was carried from the field Melander his trusted general rallied the right and then moved his reserve, comprising his elephants, to bolster the Macedonian flank. 

Now, Melander counter-attacked. In the ensuing combats Demetrius was himself mortally wounded. Unlike the Macedonians the Antigonids now fell into a lethargy and were progressively outmaneouvered by the remaining Macedonian forces. Demoralised and leaderless the rump of the Antigonid army fell back to Thracia where it was rallied by Antigonus Gonatus.

Carthage, frustrated with her failed invasion into Gallia looked again to Magna Graecia. In 275 BC Hamilco crossed from Sicilia at the head of a magnificent army. The Carthaginians had by now abandoned the heavy chariots but Hamilco was keen to try a new weapon. Having transported some 100 elephants to Magna Graecia via Sicilia he hoped these beasts would unnerve the Romans. Hamilco’s Punic army, comprising pachyderms, hoplites, auxiliaries and cavalry was indeed imposing. Several cities opened their gates to the Carthaginians, hoping to regain their independence from the Roman oppressors. Moving north however Hamilco was soon met by a Roman army under Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus deployed outside Heraclea.

Like the Carthaginians the Roman army had undergone reforms. Now the hastatai and principes were armed with pilum and only the tararii the longer spear. Hamilco determined to attack on his right where he massed his mounted and elephants, while holding his centre and left with his foot.

The Carthaginian pachyderms had the desired affect breaking up the Roman flank despite being countered to an extent by the Roman light troops. This allowed the Carthaginian mounted to break into the Roman line and eventually, with support of the Punic foot, destroy the Roman army.

Rome however was not broken by the defeat and in 274 BC the Senate ordered Manius Curius Dentatis to advance south and bring the Carthaginians to battle. Hamilco was deployed with his elephants in the centre and his right extended towards Asculum by his heavy Punic foot. His left, constrained by the steep and rocky slopes of a nearby hill was held by various mercenaries, more suited to the broken ground.

The Romans deployed with the allied legions, drilled in the Roman style, on the left and the Roman citizens on their right. Hamilco pressed forward where his elephants once again battered the Italian legions back. The Punic heavy foot on the right and the mercenaries on the left pressed forward in support.

However, they were less successful and while the pachyderms continued forward the Punic foot began to be driven back with increasing casualties. Finally, Punic losses crippling and Hamilco watched helplessly as his army broke and Magna Graecia once again became under the Roman yoke.

It will be recalled that in 276 BC that Pyrrhus defeated Demetrius’ invasion of Macedonia and indeed killed Demetrius. Once recovered from his own wounds Pyrrhus and Antigonus Gonatus agreed a fragile peace. Both used this time to strengthen their power base and rebuild their armies. In the Spring of 272 BC Pyrrhus crossed into Thracia with a significant army under his command. Antigonus Gonatus moved quickly reinforcing his veterans with light cavalry from his Asian provinces and selected a battlefield carefully. Here he hoped his superior light troops would have some advantage over the Macedonian, Epirotes and Greeks. Both commanders faced each other on the open flank.

The advance by Pyrrhus was particularly rapid and caught Antigonus reorganising his lines. Antigonid skirmishers thrown foolishly forward where overwhelmed and the Antigonid phalanx struggled to retain its order. However, on the Antigonid right initial setback soon turned to success. As the Macedonian left collapsed Pyrrhus was lucky to escape with his life.

At the end of the decade the various states control the following provinces, the first province being the home province:

  • Carthage: Africa; Numidia; Iberia; Sicilia
  • Rome: Italia; Magna Graecia; Cisalpina
  • Macedonia: Macedonia; Greece
  • Antigonids: Asia; Thracia
  • Seleucids: Mesopotamia; Persia; Parthia; Armenia; Syria
  • Ptolemaic: Aegyptus
  • Independent states currently comprise: Gallia; Illyria; Pontus; Bactria & India.
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2 thoughts on “Empire: 280 BC to 271 BC

    1. Yes, it’s a model of Diocletian’s Palace but I think it is ideal for a DBA built up area of the classical period. Very inexpensive but actually rather good.

      I first noticed this model in a photo of a UK DBA competition so was on the lookout when I visited Split.

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