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Great Battles #8 - Thymbra 547 Bc (birth Of The Persian Empire)

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Austerlitz, Oct 27, 2016.

  1. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    THYMBRA 547BC - RISE OF PERSIA

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    BACKGROUND :

    Western Asia mid 6th century BC.On the ashes of the assyrian empire of mesopotamia four powers dominate west asia and the middle east.In asia minor the Lydian kingdom,had been a small-time power but the discovery of gold and silver mines had changed everything. Lydia had become the richest of all Middle Eastern kingdoms due to its mines,populous coastal cities and control over the trade routes.The wealth of king Croesus of lydia is legendary.(Croesus is credited with issuing first standardized gold coins).Egypt is a pale shadow of its former glory,but a native pharaoh still reigns there.Mesopotamia is contested between the Neo-babylonians and the Median empire.

    The region of Persis,till now a vassal of the medians has rebelled under its young prince Cyrus.Cyrus is the grandson of the median king Astyages.Persians and Medes were both considered aryan people,and ethnically similar.Herodotus describes -

    ''The Persian nation is made up of many tribes. Those which Cyrus assembled and persuaded to revolt from the Medes,were the principal ones on which all the others are dependent. These are the Parsagadae, the Maraphians, and the Maspians, of whom the Parsagadae are the noblest. The Achaemenids, from which spring all the Persian kings, is one of their clans. The rest of the Persian tribes are the following: the Panthilaeans, the Derusians, the Germanians, who are engaged in husbandry, the Daans, the Mardians, the Dropicans, and the Sagartians, who are nomads.''

    Between 555 and 551 b.c,Cyrus outnumbered fought a series of battles against the generals of King Astyages and was defeated as often as he was victorious. In the climactic battle the Persians and the Medes fought all day, while the Persian women stood on one of the nearby heights to call out in support of their men. The battle was long and hard but Cyrus eventually prevailed, and this time he took King Astyages prisoner. He treated him well and kept him as an honored prisoner and advisor.By about 550 b.c., Cyrus had become king of the Medes as well as of the Persians.There is mutual respect between the former enemies,and they also share ethnic,linguistic and matrimonial bonds.Cyrus treats his new subjects same as the persians,appointing them to high positions and begins the process of their fusion into one entity.


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    On learning of the median internal struggles,and the rise of cyrus,Croesus senses an oppurtunity to extend his domains at the cost of his erstwhile median rivals.To this end he concludes and alliance with egypt and babylon who too are wary of the rising persian threat and want the balance of power preserved.Next he also secures the support of sparta,the most powerful greek city-state..Having consulted the Oracle at delphi ,he is told if he marches against the persians ,a great empire will be destroyed.Elated at this,(The oracle didn't mention which empire which he fails to notice) he crosses with his vast army into persian territory.Cyrus's spies alert him of the attack and he is ready.Cyrus and Croesus met on the extreme eastern side of the Cappadocian Plain, in what is now Turkey. The two generals maneuvered and counter-maneuvered for some weeks before coming to grips in a battle that lasted all day. When the Lydian horsemen charged, they carried all before them, but when the Persians drew their bows and released their arrows, even the Lydian cavalry had to withdraw. The battle was a bloody stalemate, with neither side prevailing.Soon after the battle, Croesus decided it was time to retire for the winter. Marching quickly away, he moved to his capital at Sardis, where he released his Greek and Egyptian mercenaries, telling them to return five months hence.This being standard practice to not have to pay the large number of mercenaries,in those days War was seasonal and summer campaigns were waged.

    Cyrus doesn't oblige.Breaking the norms of ancient world warfare,Cyrus waited a few days so Croesus had a head start, then quietlyfollowed him across the plains and valleys of central Turkey.So quietly did they move, and so well did they use their scouts, that the Persians followed Croesus all the way to Sardis before he knew they were upon his heels. Just a few days after arriving at his capital city, Croesus found himself besieged.Croesus knew that all his allies and mercenaries would return in the spring, but he was not certain he could hold out that long.A day after Cyrus’s arrival, Croesus forms up for battle and goes out to meet cyrus.Despite not having available all his mercenaries,even so he manages to gather a force roughly twice the size of that of cyrus .A victory would crush cyrus in unknown territory ,a defeat would mean disaster as the battlefield is only a few miles from croesus's capital sardis and there is nowhere left to regroup or retreat.The 2 armies collide on the battlefield of thymbra.

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    THE LYDIAN ARMY :

    Cyrus's vast wealth allowed him to raise a very powerful army despite his limited indigineous manpower pool.The infantry was mainly professional mercenaries -greek and egyptian heavy spearmen supported by middle eastern levy infantry and archers.Notably he had sent his best heavy infantry the greeks away for the winter at Thymbra and they were possibly not present in any large numbers.The main strength of the Lydian army however lay in its famed heavy cavalry.Above shows Lydian cavalrymen with scale armour,axes and lances and shields for protection.

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    The most reliable of Croesus's infantry would have been his Egyptian Speramen who fought in a phalanx like formation.Their long shields and spears presenting a solid front with the egyptian curved Khopesh as secondary weapon for close combat.The right picture also shows an unarmoured levy infantryman which would have constituted the majority of the combatatants.

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    To the left is a typical middle eastern archer.The archer was the dominant infantry soldier type ever since the Assyrian empire in the middle east.To the right is a heavy infantryman with circular breastplate,spear and wooden shield.The babylonians and egyptians sent contingents to support croesus.

    Croesus's army by modern estimates was 105,00 men.He outnumbered Cyrus 2 to 1.

    NEXT : ACHAEMENID ARMY
     
  2. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    ACHAEMENID PERSIAN ARMY

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    PERSIAN INFANTRY :

    At this early stage the achaemenid army of Cyrus consisted largely of ethnic iranian speaking peoples,though as the empire increased it would be supplemented with provincial levies and mercenaries.Persian military organization was based on the decimal system.Ten men composed the basic tactical sub-unit, a dathabam under dathapatis ,ten of these units made up a satabam, unit of one hundred, under a satapati, commander of one hundred; ten of these units formed a hazarabam, unit of one thousand, under a hazarapati, commander of one thousand; and ten of these units comprised a baivarabam, unit of ten thousand under a baivarapatis, commander of ten thousand.The army was called Spada.

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    The main tactic was the Shielded archer as seen above which had been introduced by the assyrians.Usually the Dathapati of a 10 man unit at the head of a file carried a broad rectangular wooden shield which he used as a barrier behind which nine archers would form up.From behind this protective screen volley after volley of arrows would disrupt the enemy formations which combined with cavalry harassment would open gaps which the cavalry would exploit.Shock combat was not a general feature of persian infantry fighting.The front spearman with the large rectangular shield was called the Sparabara or the 'Shield bearer'.He was also supported by more mobile semi-close combat infantry - The takabara with half-moon wicker shields,axes/swords and javelins.And the archer formed the main infantry component of the persian army.

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    Main strength of persian infantry lay in the striking power of their archers,effective upto 100 metres.In open middle eastern battlefields where armoured and shielded opponents were rare this was a strikingly succesful method of killing.The Persian mediterranean release was a superior type than say the greek archers of the time and would later be copied by the Cretan archers.

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    Immortals -
    The elite of the Persian infantry were the Amartaka or Immortals,called so because their number was always maintained at 10,000.Created by Cyrus,they were recruited exclusively from amongst the persians and medes.There were 10 regiments of immortals each 1000 strong.9 were recruited from the best of the commoners.The other was recruited from amongst the persian nobility and formed the great king's bodyguard -The so called 'Applebearers' .Immortals generally carried a wicker shield ,a spear,bow and were armoured with a scale corselet . Above shows a sparabara with quilted leather armour and a immortal with a spara shield.He carried a scythian battle-axe or a golden Akinake short sword for melee combat.

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    PERSIAN CAVALRY :

    Originally a nomadic people,the persians were superb cavalrymen and the median plains bred the finest battle-horses of the ancient world -the Niseans.Cavalry was the arm of choice for the nobility who could afford horses and often armour.The general persian cavalryman however usually lacked armour.He fought with bows,2 javelins which could also be employed as spears,and a battle axe or short sword.Though not shock cavalry,they were capable of running down any disorganized infantry formations easily.

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    The elite of the Persian cavalry were the Havaka or 'Kinsmen' formed by Darius and 15,000 strong.Amongst them were a body of 1000 elite horsemen who served as his bodyguards.Above left shows an elite persian cavalryman with bow,spear,shield and armour. He wears a metal helmet, usually of bronze and pot shaped. Body armour , such as padded linen corselets made of two layers of linen, quilted and stuffed with cotton wool. Padded linen might not have given as much protection as bronze, but it was certainly lighter and more comfortable to wear.Metal scale armour was rare until the later achaemenid period.To the bottom right is an immortal applebearer ,without battle armour.

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    CHARIOTS :


    Though chariots as an arm of decision had become obsolete the persians had added an exotic upgrade to the normal chariots.Cyrus's one advantage was in his scythed chariots which outnumbered those of croesus.These were potentially lethal machines which could disrupt an enemy formation by mowing down its ranks with the deadly blades on its wheels.Cyrus also had 4-6 wheeled siege towers which he used in battle as an elevated platform for his archers -a very early employment of field fortifications.

    NEXT : BATTLE OF THYMBRA
     
  3. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    BATTLE OF THYMBRA

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    Both armies deploy.Lydians in blue,Persians in Red.
    Persians -49,000 men with 500 chariots and 5-6 towers.
    Lydians -105,000 men with 300 chariots.


    On the flanks of both armies is the cavalry.in front chariots.In the centre Croesus deploys his packed egyptian phalanx..The smiley represents the persian's secret weapon-an improvised camel corps.A persian officer noted that the lydian horses can't stand the secnt of the camels and with cyrus's permission a newly organized camel corps is established with animals from the baggage train.
    The lydian army advances,with the cavalry on its flanks advancing faster than the slow moving phalanx in the centre.Cyrus observes that the lydian army stretches far beyond his and is likely to outflank him.He therefore orders his centre to move forward and the flanks remaining behind and gradually adopts a refused flank formation.Cyrus places his best troops on the flanks including the immortals.

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    1.
    Initially croesus calls a halt of his wings for his infantry in the flanks to catch up,but as the persians adopt a box like formation a gap develops between the again advancing lydian wings and the centre.The lydian cavalry sees a oppurtunity to get into the rear of the persian box and begins to wheel inwards.In their haste and due to the large dust clouds risen by the horses hooves they do not detect cyrus's held back wings.Both the persian cavalry wings and chariots now charge under cyrus on the right and hystaspas on the left.They take the lydian cavalry by surprise in the flank.

    2
    . The initial lydian infantry and cavalry attack proceeds but is bogged down by constant archery fire from the towers and the persian archers inside the box.

    3.Seeing the wings charge,persian commander in the centre-Abradatas,charges with his scythed chariots his opposing lydian chariots.The lydian chariots taken aback by the impetous charge are unable to build up momentum timely and routed.Some flee and others are driven back into their own infantry where they cause chaos and disorder..Abradatas presses on the attack into the ranks of the egyptian phalanx.He initially causes heavy losses with the wheel blades mowing men down ,but eventually the long line of spears bring the chariots down and abradatas is killed with his men.However ,crucially this attack has kept the egyptians away from the main fight for a considerable time.

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    1.The lydian horses are unable to withstand the unfamiliar scent of the camels and are thrown into total confusion.On top of this they are taken by surprise in the flanks.The horsemen dismount to fight but find their long lances ineffective and are mowed down by chariots or cut down by the persian cavalry.The survivors flee the battlefield.

    2.With the lydian cavalry routed,the persian cavalry and chariots wheel inwards and strike the lydian infantry on the wings from the flanks and rear.The lydian flanks are crushed from all sides.The survivors of the lydian wings flee in total disarray.

    3.Meanwhile the egyptian phalanx has resumed its steady advance and engages the centre of the persian line.The deep phalanx breaks through the persian centre line.and it looks however that a rout of the persian centre is likely.However the persians make a stand at the siege towers which block their retreat.Here the egyptians are brought to a temporary halt by devastating volleys of arrows from the siege towers.

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    1.Seeing the rout of his wings,croesus leaves the battlefield.
    2.Cyrus now surrounds the egyptians from all sides and rains missiles on them.However they continue to resist.Impressed by their tenacity cyrus offers them to join his service.They accept his offer on the condition that they wouldn't have to fight croesus and surrender.

    AFTERMATH :

    Persian losses had been light,yet cyrus had won an exemplary victory.With the destruction of the lydian field army,cyrus proceeded to besiege sardis where croesus was penned up with the remnants of his army.Sardis fell shortly afterwards.Lydia was annexed to the persian empire.The fate of croesus is unknown.

    Thymbra marks as one of the most decisive battles in history.It began the process of the rise of the achaemenid empire.With the fall of lydia cyrus next turned his attention to babylon which he conquered.His son cambyses later conquered egypt.By uniting the 4 major empires under one authority,the once petty kingdom of persia emerged as history's first superpower and the first great multinational empire.The legacy left by cyrus was an immense one,the achaemenid empire was fundamentally different from the earlier ones of the region.Unlike the assyrians who based their empire on terror,cyrus based his on toleration and federalism.This legacy would be followed as a model by all later empires of the region like the seleucids,the parthians and the sassanids.Cyrus also gave shape to the iranian national identity that has persisted ever since.

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    BATTLE ANALYSIS :

    Surprise & Ingenuity - Cyrus achieved both tactical and strategic surprise.He took Croesus completely offguard by his strategic winter march which forced him to do battle without his finest mercenaries.He surprised and neutralized the lydian cavalry with his use of camels and he surprised the Lydians tactically with his novel formation.

    Firepower Dominance - The Persians were greatly aided by the firepower of their archers augmented by the use of the wheeled towers which bogged down the numerically superior enemy force.

    Lack of Reserve - Croesus lacked any central powerful reserve to alter the battle after his flanks had overextended and routed.He subsequently could only watch helplessly with no way to alter the course of the battle.

    (Can't continue the 1940 battle report atm due to lack of time for studying the sources,will resume as soon as possible.Can only do the short ones atm which require minimum effort)

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    Sources -
    Osprey Men at arms - The persian army 560- 330 bc.
    Cyrus the Great - Samuel Crompton
     
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