Sunday, October 13, 2013

Battle of Callinicum April 19, 531 A.D

 On Saturday, October 12th  I staged a re-fight of Callinicum at the South Bay Game Club using Scutarii.   The Sassanids had made one of their raids into Byzantine territory with about 15,000 Persian cavalry and 5000 Arab allied cavalry and were returning home.   Belisarius had been following them with about 3000 cavalry and 5000 infantry.  He was joined by Hermogenes, the Magistar Officiorium (the highest political office other than the emperor)  and was forced to engage the Persian army.   The battle took place across the river from the town of Callinicum on level ground with rising ground away from the river.   Belisarius placed about 6500 heavy infantry on his left flank next to the river, then his heavy cavalry (in groups of 4000, 3000, and 4000),  next were about 2500 light infantry Isaurians, and on his right flank were 5000 Arab light cavalry.   Hermogenes and Belisarius were in reserve behind the center 3000 cavalry with their Bucellari totaling about 1000 men.  Total figures - 368 cavalry, 496 infantry, plus generals.

The Persians placed their 5000 Arab allies on their left flank opposite the Arab allies of the Byzantines.  They had two bodies of about 5000 horse forming their front line and another 5000 in reserve behind them.  440 cavalry figures plus generals.

Historically the Byzantines held their positions allowing the Persians to have the initiative.   After some preliminary skirmishing the Persians attacked the Byzantine right flank with their Arab allies and part of their cavalry.   The Arab cavalry opposing them fled exposing the Byzantine right flank.   The Byzantines managed to hold their position after falling back towards the river and the Persians broke off the engagement and left.   There are two versions of Belisarius' conduct during the battle.   One has him fleeing across the river after finding some boats.   The other has him remaining with the army and bolstering its morale.

Our game did not follow history as the Byzantine players chose to advance their army and immediately engage the opposing Persian cavalry.   Their Arab cavalry skirmished with the Arabs on the Persian side.  The Byzantine heavy infantry's advance caused the Persian cavalry facing them to evade away.   The infantry then attempted to halt its advance instead of continuing to chase the Persian cavalry.  However,  their discipline was not good enough and almost half the front rank formations continued to chase them becoming disorganized.

Meanwhile in the center the Byzantine cavalry ran straight into the Persian reserve formation  which had advanced forward as the left body of Persian cavalry moved towards its left flank.   This would be a disaster for the Byzantines as most of their cavalry was only armed with bows and swords while the Persian reserve had lances in addition to their bows.   The rest of the Persian cavalry only had bows and swords.   The front line of the Byzantine cavalry had been deployed in skirmish order with the second line in close order.  Being in open order each Byzantine unit ended up contacting two of the Persian units.

Although their armor was equal each Byzantine unit only had two melee dice vs the total of 8 melee dice for the two Persian units they were fighting.   After three rounds of melee (two for the initial turn of contact when the Byzantines chose to move first and one for the second when the Persians gained the initiative and chose to move first), four Byzantine units broke when it was their turn and they had to test morale.   This caused other units behind and near them to rout, including Belisarius' Bucellari.   The game was called at this point as the Byzantines only had Hermogenes Bucellari and a few other cavalry units available to attempt to plug the huge gap in their battle line.

Arab cavalry skirmishing

View of the battle.  Byzantines on left.  Persians on right.

end of battle
Photos by Lawrence from the South Bay Game Club.