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Great Battles #15 - Dara 530 ( Last of the Romans)

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Austerlitz, Nov 24, 2016.

  1. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    DARA 530 - LAST OF THE ROMANS

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    BACKGROUND :

    As the Dark Ages as they have been called, settled in on Western Europe in the aftermath of the end of the western roman empire(476 ad) under the weight of the barbarian invasions, the centre of gravity of centralized power in the newly christian world shifted to Constantinopole,the capital of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, where the people still called themselves romani or romans even though it had little in common with old imperial rome except legacy and tradition.They were by tradition the heir to the caesars,even though the empire was essentially a Graeco-anatolian one dominated by a strict christian ethos.Aside the barbarian threats ,the greatest adversary to the Byzantines was the equally sophisticated resurgent empire of the Zoroastrian Persians under the sassanids.Roman-persian rivalry was old stretching back to late republican times when crassus's legions were first annihilated at carrhae by the Parthians.The Parthians over the centuries acted as a crucial barrier to roman imperial ambitions in the East,one they could never fully overcome due to a combination of parthian military prowess,logistical overstretch and terrain.Nonetheless by the 2nd century the romans had grinded the parthians down to a more or less subservient position,even though the roman empire itself was now in decline.It was in the mid-3rd century that the Parthians were replaced in power in Persia by the new and vigorous Sassanid dynasty under Shahenshah Ardeshir .That this new power was a much more active and fearsome threat was proven in 260 when in an unprecedented event a roman emperor was captured in battle with his army destroyed by the sassanids under Shapur I.

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    (Shapur humiliates Valerian)

    The romans after a final attempt in the mid-4rth century gave up all attempts to expand eastwards,and the border settled down with occasional wars generally characterized by a few sieges of border fortresses , skirmishing, raiding and the rare pitched battle.By and large a stalemate had set in.The eastern roman empire didn't have the military power or anywhere near the resources of the old roman one but were formidable defensively.The sassanids were very strong in pitched battles due to their superior cavalry but lacked the world class infantry,siege equipment and specialists needed to breakthrough the Byzantine fortress chains supported by mobile armies from the anatolian interior.The stalemate situation would continue with frequent conflicts that exploded into total war from the 7th century -one that would eventually see the eclipse of both exhausted empires by an unknown adversary from the desert -the arabs. But that is another story.This one deals with one of those short frequent wars of the early 6th century(when both empires arguably reached their peak)The war had no longstanding impact on the balance of power between the 2 powers -but the battle to be read was extraordinary both for its tactical brilliance and for it signalled the emergence of one of history's greatest generals and certainly Byzantium's greatest general in Belisarius.

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    (The frontier -Armenia served as a buffer state divided into spheres of influence and a frequent cause of clash,Mesopotamia was a heavily fortified border where most sieges and pitched battles took place)
    The Byzantine Empire was at war with the Sassanids from 527,there was an attempt at peace when the sassanid emperor Kavadh proposed to have his favourite son Khusrau(the future Khusrau I - One of the greatest sassanid emperors)adopted by the byzantine emperor Justin to protect him from the murderous reality of a persian imperial succesion.Justin,assisted by his nephew and succesor Justinian(the future Justinian -greatest byzantine emperor) refused viewing it as a potential plot to legitimize a persian claim on the byzantine throne.Kavadh took the refusal hard and resumed the offensive.In the Caucasus area the Persians made progress and inflicted 2 succesive defeats on the byzantine expeditionary forces ,in one of which at least Belisarius was present as one of the commanders.His reputation however seems to have suffered no harm at the Imperial court (probably implying his personal conduct was not to blame) and he actually recieved a promotion as the new principal roman commander on the Persian frontier,with orders to repulse the incoming persian invasion force of 50,000 men(whose initial objective was to prevent the town of Dara from being refortified).Belisarius could only scour together 25,000 men from the countryside in response,most of them demoralized after recent defeats to the persians on the battlefield.

    As the Persian host approached Belisarius chose not to abandon Dara,or settle in for a siege but to actually offer battle outnumbered 2 to 1,against an enemy superior in both quality and morale and one who had dominated most pitched battles against the byzantines for the last few generations .

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    NEXT : OPPOSING ARMIES
     
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  2. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    OPPOSING ARMIES

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    THE BYZANTINE ARMY :

    The byzantine army of the 6th century was an army in transition,between the late roman army that had come into being after Diocletian and Constantine's reforms in the early 4th century and the theme based distinctly byzantine army that would emerge from the mid-7th century.It had no resemblance except in unit names to the dreaded legions of imperial rome at its peak -that was an army where heavy infantry was the main arm,in the byzantine army of the 6th century cavalry had already emerged the main arm of decision.This was not a citizen army where adult males were bound to compulsory military service of the republican era,nor a fully professional standardized standing army with uniform training and equipment of the classical empire era,but rather a part militia,part mercenary,part citizen composite force.Manpower,especially trained manpower was a serious concern.The army of the byzantine empire fielded in the 6th century a total army of around 150,000 stretched all over its territories including garrisons.(the treasury couldn't afford more)Field armies were thus in the range of 15,000 -40,000.One of the main reasons byzantines usually avoided pitched battles was also because of the cost and difficulty in replacing lost men.

    The army was divided into Limitanei(part time frontier militia used as garrisons) and Comitatenses or Stratiotai (field armies composed of regulars and mercenaries).The comitatenses were composed of - 1)Byzantine regular units of citizen soldiers including elite guard units from constantinopole 2)Bucellari - Private regiments raised and maintained by the great nobles and generals of the empire(these were increasingly some of the best trained and equipped troops available) 3)Foederati - Foreign mercenaries from 'barbarian' peoples in byzantine service for gold and plunder.


    The limitanei and comitatenses were created by Diocletian and Conastantine's reforms in the early 4th century.The old 6000 man heavy legion was abolished,replaced by nimbler 1000 man legions(which were more mobile and responsive to the more frequent barbarian invasions but lost their shock power) .They also abandoned the forward defense strategy with heavily garrisoned borders manned by legionaries -instead opting for a mobile defense with Limitanei border fortress troops to contain/delay invasions until mobile comitatenses of the field armies could arrive.The reforms also reflected the growing importance of cavalry in the roman armies.This system remained with some modifications into the early byzantine period.

    Gone were the Legions,cohorts and centuries of the past.The main tactical unit on the battlefield was an Arithmos or Tagma of 300-400 men.2 or more of these formed a brigade or Moira,and several moiras made up a division or Meros.

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    INFANTRY :

    The infantry was composed of light and heavy infantry .Light infantry included javelinmen and most importantly foot archers .Archery had now become the main offensive weapon of the byzantine infantry,being used for screening or to soften up enemy formations for an assault or disrupt charges by heavy cavalry or infantry through concentrated fire .The weapon was the recurve composite bow and quivers holding 30-40 arrows with the style of archery geared towards power and penetration rather than rate of fire.The limitanei fortress guards provided much of the light infantry.


    Heavy infantry called Skutatoi remained integral to byzantine armies -the heirs of the legions they bore no resemblance to them.Sophisticated and costly armour and equipment of the imperial era like the segmented plate armour or the pilum heavy javelin had been abandoned.The primary weapon of the infantryman was now again the spear which was more useful for keeping an enemy at bay than the short sword.The gladius sword itself,the deadly roman close quarter weapon had been replaced by the spatha a longer straight sword formerly used by the cavalry for longer reach.The rectangular scutum shield had been abandoned for round shields which were easier to train infantryman with-reflecting the lower standards in training and discipline.The trademark quincux formation of the legions were no longer in use,the old phalanx was back in vogue - a far simpler formation.Now used with variations which incorporated light infantry into the ranks for missile power.The infantry now acted as a pivot around which the cavalry could manuever or retreat to.At least 2 front ranks of a byzantine spearwall in a battle were expected to have mail armour and greaves.The skutatoi formed the bulk of the infantry of field armies.

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    (Throwing Plumbata war dart)
    One of the standard light weapons of the byzantine infantryman of this era was the plumbata - a lead weighted dart which had replaced the Pilum heavy javelin of the roman legions.There were several reasons for this -the plumbata was much smaller so an infantryman could use 5 instead of the 2 for a pilum and crucially a cavalryman could use it too.It was much cheaper and also reuseable,whereas the pilum consumed a large quantity of wood and iron and was not.Finally it had double range and penetration than a pilum , it glided down from the air like a mortar shell once thrown.It didn't require much throwing practice as it was more of an area weapon than single target one -this was much more useful for lesser trained troops.However it lacked the shield disabling ability of the pilum and also its sheer stopping/killing power.Also unlike the pilum it was very difficult to aim accurately being more of a area saturation weapon when fired enmasse by the front ranks of infantry.

    The
    byzantine infantry at Dara was low quality ,they were composed of whatever limitanei and provincial troops could be scraped together from the countryside and survivors of the past battles.Morale was low due to recent losses to the persians.If confronted by a full blown persian cavalry charge they would likely break.At Dara they numbered 10,000 men of the total 25,000 strong byzantine army.

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    CAVALRY :

    Cavalry generally consisted of around 20% of the whole byzantine army,though at Dara it was the main force -15,000 in number.Cavalry was the main strike element of the byzantine armies.The above pictures illustrate the regular byzantine cavalrymen of the era -on top is one of the Cataphractii - an armoured heavy horseman equipped for close combat with kontos lance ,small shield and straight sword.His armour is not as extensive as it was during the cataphracts of the late roman period(4th century) or the more well known 10-11th century ones.This is because of the need for greater mobility to counter frequent nomadic threats like avars,huns etc.The second picture displays the standard byzantine horsemen of the era clad in lamellar armour,front ranks are usually armed for melee combat with rear ranks acting as horse archers.Usually cataphracts would compose perhaps no more than 15% of the whole byzantine cavalry and light horse archers another 25%.The rest were medium horsemen capable of both medium and ranged combat.

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    (Hunnic horseman - Germanic horseman)

    Foederati -
    The old roman empire employed large numbers of non citizen cavalry to complement its legions under the Auxilla system.This term lost its relevance after Emperor Caracalla in the 3rd century in an effort to widen the tax base named all residents in the empire citizens.However the practice of recruiting foreign elements with particular skillsets continued in the romano-byzantine empire,becoming particualrly important in the late empire days when the citizens had lost their military vigour and military manpower had to be found amongst the 'barbarian' warlike peoples the goths,vandals,avars,slavs,alans etc.After the dissolution of the hun empire on Attilla's death,many huns joined byzantine service.Belisarius had at his command at Dara 1200-1500 huns as an elite mounted force.The Huns lived up to their ferocious reputation with superb horse archery skills, while also being capable of close combat with straight sword and lassoes(to bring down an opponent from his horse).
    There were also 300 Herul cavalrymen with belisarius,a scandinavian people they were originally part of the hunnic coalition but after its breakup joined byzantine service.They fought as light cavalry using only shields and a padded jacket as protection.

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    Bucellarii -
    The bucellarii (household cavalry) were private regiments of mounted retainers maintained by the higher officers and nobles of the empire and formed often a significant portion of a field army's cavalry force. The size of a retinue of bucellarii depended on the wealth of the employer and for the higher nobles these men were generally better equipped and trained than the cash strapped army ranks. Their rank and file were called hypaspistai, or shield-bearers, and their officers, doryphoroi or spear-bearers. Doryphoroi took solemn oaths of fidelity to their patron and of loyalty to the emperor.The most famous bucellarii force in history was that of Belisarius who maintained a force of 7000 at the height of his powers.At Dara Belisarius was still only a rising general and had with him 1500 bucellarii and these would be his most trusted cavalry force in the battle.Usually divided into smaller tactical units called bandum (300 men).

    The Bucellarii of Belisarius were a superbly flexible unit type -they were to act as a sort of composite cavalry.Capable of close quarter shock action with lance and straight sword and also capable of acting as horse archers giving them both ranged and melee combat capability.They were usually protected by lamellar armour(lighter than mail) , helmet,greaves and a small shield.Horse armour was probably not used to improve mobility.They were also equipped with the lethal hunnic composite bow as well as pulmbata darts for ranged firepower.Initially Belisarius raised a single Bandon of 300 such horsemen and in 525,took this force across the Danube River; to raid the territory of the barbarian Gepids.After a successful raid he was allowed to expand it into a whole brigade(moira) of 1500.This was the force he had with him at Dara.

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    (Byzantine cavalry tactics)

    BYZANTINE CAVALRY TACTICS :

    The simple 2-line roman cavalry formation of the imperial times was found completely inadequate to deal with the hunnic cavalry,after several hard knocks against nomadic armies the byzantines created the Byzantine Drill - a more flexible approach.Two-thirds of the unit would be deployed forward in ranks eight deep in the center and four deep on the wings. A second line would form up 400 meters to the rear. The horses along the front line were armored. Each division consisted of cursores armed with bows for the offense, protected by defensores who closely followed up their attacks.

    NEXT : SASSANID ARMY
     
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  3. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    SASSANID ARMY

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    Sassanid society was roughly divided into 4 social groups - Warriors,priests,scholars and commoners.Its manpower reserve in professional fighting men were however around half of the byzantines - ~70,000 men(not including levies of infantry).The sassanid army was almost wholly reliant on cavalry as its main strike arm throughout history and succeeded the parthians.The emperor was the commander in chief with a Spahbed leading an army.Organization seems o have been based on the decimal system.The landowning nobility provided the main fighting power of the sassanid armies.

    At the top of this hierarchy stood the seven great persian families who were the greatest nobles/landowners in the empire and held the top positions -one was the ruling house of sassan,the other six having parthian roots.Beneath them were the upper nobility -these Azatan formed a numerous minor aristocracy of lower-ranking administrators, mostly living on their small estates and providing the cavalry backbone of Sassanid army. Most prestigious among them were the armoured "Asvaran'' who made up the ranks of the asavaran or the persian armoured cavalry.Beneath them were the minor landowners of the Dehqan who usually fought as medium cavalry but from khusrau's time were included in the savaran which greatly expanded its recruitment base.This hard cavalry based on a hierarchy of social prestige was supported by nomdic mercenaries and infantry levies and mercenaries.

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    ASAVARAN :

    These were the heavy cavalry of the empire and fought as cataphracts.The byzantines developed their own heavy cavalry in emulation of these mailed horsemen.The tradition of armoured heavy cataphracts in iran dates back to Seleucid and then parthian times and reached its peak under the sassanids.Unlike the Parthians ,where horse archers predominated incomparison to heavy armoured lancers (10:1 ),in the sassanid empire the reverse was the truth.The early sassanid cataphracts from Shapur's time were clad head to toe in mail along with their horses,beneath the mail they wore leather jackets or lamellar for near impenetrable protection.Capable of delivering perhaps the most devastating frontal charge of their times with lances,they did lack mobility and endurance due to their heavy armour.They carried straight swords and maces for close combat and were mounted on the now extinct Nisean horse -the first true heavy battlehorse of military history.Elite units wore facemasks.The extreme heavy armour was somewhat lessened after the disastrous defeats to the invading Hepthalites(white huns) in the 5th century and troubles against the turks.As a consequence,part of the horse armour was abandoned to increase mobility,horse archery was also brought back to some extent amongst the heavy cavalry.Particularly the lower nobility or dehqan fought with both lance and bow.Above picture depicts Asavaran Cataphracts of Khusrau's time.

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    (Sassanid Zhayedan)
    The elite of the asavaran were the Zhayedan or Immortals of the royal guard.An emulation of the old achaemenid immortals they were maintained at 10,000.The elite of the elite were probably the unit of Pushtigban - a 1000 man crack unit charged with the protection of the emperor and a final assault reserve.A sub-unit of the pushtigban was the Gyan-avspar(Life givers) ,possibly the most prestigious sassanid cavalry unit.Thousands of zhayedan were in the ranks of the persian army approaching dara.

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    (3-wave charge)
    The main persian armies usually deployed into two flanks and a centre -the centre in 2 lines the first line being heavy cavalry and second a reinforcement line of infantry.The flanks were cavalry with foot archers interspersed for fire support. Behind the center was the final reserve of Zhayedan which could reinforce a failing flank or reinforce an assault or breakthrough.Tactically the main tactic was the frontal cavalry charge by the heavy cataphracts carried out under the cover of archery fire and with tremendous momentum.The sassanids developed further sophisticated small-unit tactics including the charge in 3 waves.A first wave of heavy cavalry charegd and forced the enemy to bunch up and close ranks so as to not be overrun,this was immediately followed by a second wave of horse archers who caused heavy casualities amongst the closely packed ranks,and finally a main assault by a third wave of cataphracts who broke the enemy.However it must be remember the raised saddle or the iron stirrup had not yet seen widespread use and thus the force of a cataphract charge while awesome would still not be the equal of a high medieval knight or mamluk lancer.

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    LIGHT CAVALRY :

    Though many of the lesser sassanid nobility fought as armoured horse archers,horse archery had declined in importance in comparison to parthian times,though there remained a substantial body of light horse archers.The sassanids also recruited large numbers of nomadic mercenaries as light horse to fulfill this role.Since using a bow requires the rider to let go of the reins with both hands, horse archers need superb horsemanship skills if they are to shoot on the move. The natives of large grassland areas used mounted archery for hunting, for protecting their herds, and for war.Using the Parthian shot technique the rider would retreat from the enemy while turning his upper body and shooting backwards. Due to the superior speed of mounted archers, troops under attack from horse archers were unable to respond to the threat if they did not have ranged weapons of their own. Constant harassment would result in casualties, morale drop and disruption of the formation. Any attempts to charge the archers would also slow the entire army down.Horse archers were the bane of the sedentary peoples and the main strength of nomadic forces in the age of cavalry. Mercenaries and subject peoples would have furnished auxiliary cavalry in some numbers. Three thousand Sabir Huns are said to have been recruited for the persian campaign in the caucasus in 530, while the Kadishaye (Kadiseni) were the primary unit of the Persian right wing at the Battle of Dara.

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    INFANTRY :

    Sassanid infantry had a very poor reputation,being described often by roman-byzantine historians as 'an armed rabble' of little consequence.The infantry consisted of the 'Paighan'- mostly lightly armed spearmen, who, like their Achaemenid ancestors, were usually levied troops of little fighting ability generally using large rectangular wicker shields as a barrier from behind which the archers could fire volleys - a tactic in use in the east since the time of the Assyrian empire. Procopius famously derided them as "a crowd of pitiable peasants who come into battle for no other purpose than to dig through walls and to despoil the slain and in general to serve the soldiers''.To these were added other light infantry - kurdish javelineers .There were some good heavy infantry -like the daylamis who were used as mercenaries(later used as elite infantry by arabs) . They fought with sword,spear and javelin -similar to the old roman legionaries.

    The archers formed the elite of the Persian infantry. They were trained to deliver their arrows with extreme rapidity, and with an aim that was almost unerring. The huge wattled shieldswere used by front ranks of infantry and from behind a row of these, rested upon the ground and forming a sort of loop−holed wall, the Sasanian bowmen shot their weapons with great effect; sassanid archery was reknowned for its rate of fire -capable of 'darkening the sky'.Sometimes the archers, instead of thus fighting in line, were intermixed with the heavy horse, with which it was not difficult for them to keep pace. They galled the foe with their constant discharges from between the ranks of the horsemen.

    NEXT : THE BATTLE OF DARA
     
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  4. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    BATTLE OF DARA

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    Belisarius had some days time to prepare for the coming persian attack.He refused to be besieged inside the fortress or abandon it and instead opted for a pitched battle outside the town of dara.For Belisarius it seemed like mission impossible,his infantry were mostly recruits gathered in a hurry and in the days preceeding the battle most were given basic archery training.The regulars that were there were demoralized from recent experience.The byzantine cavalry was in better shape but still outclassed by the persian elite cataphracts,his only real crack force were the 1500 huns and heruls and his own 1500 bucellarii cavalry - a total of around 3000 horsemen.The enemy would outnumber him 2 to 1.

    Utilising the time available to him Belisarius set upon an extremely sophisticated and unconventional deployment.He had a long line of ditches dug along his front line,too wide for cavalry to jump over.The ditch was not continuous,but had several intervals where horsemen could pass through but doing so would both channel them into those zones and also break up their momentum -essentially creating artificial chokepoints.Moreover the sides of the trench held by the better byzantine cavalry were pushed forward while the centre held by the shaky byzantine infantry was cut back and refused.The infantry trench was closer to the fortress walls so that it could be supported by ranged weapons from the fortress battlements.These measures provided great protection for his unreliable infantry against a persian cataphract charge,and also deterred such an attack as it would appear to the persian commander to be riding into the jaws of a trap.

    The outnumbered and outclassed roman cavalry on the flanks were also behind trenches,and on the angles of the trench were passageways by which the huns in 2 bodies of 600 each placed before the infantry trench could pass to the flanks and take advancing persian cavalry that broke through on the flank.Behind the infantry stood the final reserve of 1500 bucellarii.The 300 heruls were hidden behind a hillock on the byzantine left flank in ambush position.Belisarius wanted the persians to attack his flanks so as to be able to defeat each attack in detail seperately.

    The Persian commander Perozes(Firoz) arrived with 40,000 men and supremely confident,immediately asked belisarius to prepare a bath for him inside the town of Dara!He was refused.The Persians began probing attacks on the byzantine left flank,and tried to lure them with a feigned retreat but the byzantines didn't oblige.This was followed by a contest between persian and byzantine champions which the latter won.This raised byzantine morale.The 2nd day was marked by indecisive and ultimately failed peace negotiations.The main battle took place on the 3rd day.

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    Before the 3rd day Perozes(Firoz) recieved 10,000 more persian reinforcements bringing his force upto 50,000 including the elite Zhayedan.Now emboldened he resolved to attack.The Persian plan was to roll up the byzantine flanks with overwhelming cavalry attacks and then effecting a double envelopment on the static centre,all the persian cavalry was concentrated on the 2 flanks with the inferior infantry holding the centre.The battle began with heavy skirmishing,the persians maintained a greater volume of fire,but the wind was against them and the duel was largely inconclusive.The Persian right flank composed mostly of the Qediseni launched a heavy assault,after fierce fighting on the trench chokepoints they pushed back the byzantine cavalrymen and broke through.As they surged through after the retreating enemy,they were attacked from the flanks by the huns from across the trench and by the Heruls from the rear.Belisarius's Bucellari joined the attack as the persian cavalry was surrounded from all sides.In total disarray they fled leaving 3000 cavalrymen dead.Belisarius allowed a limited pursuit by the reformed byzantine cavalry as he switched his attention to the other flank which was in crisis.

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    On the Byzantine right flank,the main persian assault came.Here Firoz reinforced his wing with the elite Zhayedan from the reserve and launched a head on assault which broke through the byzantine cavalry despite the trench.As the Asavaran surged in deeper Belisarius led the Huns and his bucellarii that had just defeated the persian attack on the left flank across the field and struck at the overextended sassanid cataphracts.Meanwhile the other group of 600 huns crossed the trench and attacked from the rear.The retreating byzantine cavalry now turned round and rejoined the fray.The sassanid heavy cavalry was surrounded on all sides and the huns succeeded in cutting the force in two.Sunicus the hunnic cavalry commander killed both the Asavaran commander Barzeman and the Zhayedan standard bearer as the sassanid heavy cavalry was routed leaving 5000 of its elite horsemen dead.

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    Belisarius allowed a limited pursuit of the persian cavalry ,but didn't go for an all out effort to annihilate them as he didn't wish to fight a desperate enemy that was cornered and still outnumbered him,having already achieved his objective of repulsing the sassanid invasion decisively.Seeing the asavaran in flight the sassanid infantry dropped their shields and fled without a fight.The battle was over,and against all odds the byzantines had won .

    AFTERMATH :

    The sassanids lost 8000 cavalry,bulk of them elite troops.The Byzantines lost less than a 1000 cavalry.The battle had no decisive effect as the stalemate on the Mesopotamian frontier continued,neither side having enough resources for a decisive breakthrough.The Byzantine-sassanid wars continued unabated for another century reaching its climax in the next century .The battle is studied not as a decisive event,but for its sheer tactical ingenuity and as the entry point into the career of the greatest byzantine general -Belisarius.

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    (Belisarius)

    Belisarius(Belt-czar in slavic meaning 'White Prince') was born in Illyria(modern day western balkan coastline) and was of slavic descent.Originally a bodyguard to the young heir and later emperor Justinian he went on to become the greatest of byzantium's commanders.He is known to history to have achieved herculean feats with the most modest resources.After the dara campaign,he conquered back africa from the vandals with a meagre force of ~15,000 men and even got a foothold in visigothic spain,before being recalled by a jealous justinian.His greatest campaign was against the Gothic kingdom of Italy which was reconquered by him with less than 10,000 men against an enemy capable of fielding 10 times that number.These same goths had smashed the great armies of the roman empire at Adrianopole which numbered several times more.He served another stint in Italy and another on the persian front where he forced khusrau's army to withdraw through maneuvre alone. Justinian increasingly jealous and suspicious of him,increasingly provided him the barest minimum of resources and in later life he had his property confiscated,though eventually was returned to favour in old age.(the story of him being blinded is later literary fabrication).Despite this he saved Justinian's throne on 2 occasions - from the Nika riots in Constantinopole and in his last campaign against a hunnic invasion,outnumbered heavily as he had been in most of his battles.He even refused the offer from the goths to be their king.In his campaigns he expanded the empire's territory by 45%.In many ways he is similar to the great arab muslim general of the 7th century -Khalid ibn al walid.Both were primarily cavalry generals,both fought most of their battles outnumbered,both prefered the defensive followed by a quick cavalry offensive if possible in battle,both had their signature small elite body of horsemen -The bucellarii and thye mobile guard.Both were masters of mobile warfare.

    He is regarded by many historians for his achievements against the odds as the 'Last of the Romans' - the last general of the empire to embody the old roman spirit - loyalty,indomitable courage,ingenuity,strength and majesty.

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    (Conquests of Belisarius)
    BATTLE ANALYSIS :

    Dara was a tactical masterpiece and a superb example of the defensive offensive tactic.Inferior both numerically and qualitatively belisarius was nonetheless able to turn the tables.His defensive action was perfect with all the ingredients in play -a combination of a static and mobile defense,use of field fortifications,superb use of reserves, deception and ambush,channeling the enemy into engagements he wanted to fight,shielding his weaknesses,great use of interior lines to inflict a defeat in detail on the sassanid army.The battle was a triumph of the defense .To quote clausewitz -
    ''Defense is the more effective form of war - a means to win a victory that enables one to take the offensive after superiority has been gained.Once the defender has gained an important advantage ,the work of defense is as such done.A sudden powerful transition to the offensive is the greatest moment of the defense.If its is not in the commander's mind from the start,he will never be persuaded of the superiority of the defensive form''

    CONCENTRATION OF EFFORT :
    Belisarius's briliant defensive plan forced firoz to violate the principle of concentration,and negated the numerical superiority of the sassanids.There was no big massed frontal assault due to the refused trench in the centre,the persian attack was broken up into 2 seperate efforts ,in both cases belisarius was able to concentrate his best horsemen at the point of decision from various directions to defeat each attack in detail.The brilliant use of interior lines was the key to this concentration on the threatened flanks as needed.

    SECURITY :

    Belisarius provided his weakest arm -shaky infantry with the protection of the trench as well as a refused centre so as to effectively decide the battle without them having been engaged.Even if they ahd been charged they had the additional support from the fortress walls.The cavalry too were protected by the trench to disrupt the momentum of the cataphracts and channel the them into artificial chokepoints.

    MOBILITY :

    The battle is a great example of a mobile defense ,the use of Byzantine elite mobile reserves effectively decided the battle on each flank even though their total number was very small.

    SURPRISE :

    The byzantines achieved tactical surprise on both flanks,with the ambush from the heruls on the rear on the left flank and the huns from the sides on both flanks which proved decisive.

    CONTROL:

    Belisarius at Dara established complete control over the battle,imposing his will on the opponent who moved almost at his direction.He literally chose and 'created' the battlefield and manipulated the opponent into battle on exactly his terms . This feat is comparable to Napoleon at Austerlitz or Hannibal at Cannae.(though this battle was not as decisive due to the poor quality of his army)

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    Sources -
    Osprey Men at Arms - Roman-Byzantine armies 4th-9th centuries
    Osprey MAA - Sassanid Savaran
    Generalship of Belisarius - Maj.Anthony Brogna
    Masters of the Battlefield - Paul Davis
    Belisarius -The Last Roman General - Ian Hughes
    Net sources
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
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