ARMIES OF THE SUCCESSORS: THE ANTIGONIDS

(This is the first part in a series on the militaries of the Macedonian Successor states; which grew out of the Wars of the Diadoci that followed the death of Alexander the Great. For the next century after his death, these kingdoms were defended by armies that represented the greatest fighting forces in the Hellenistic World. Each differed from the other in fascinating ways, as will be shown.)

Of all the Successors of Alexander the Great none came closer to reuniting his empire thanAntigonus Monophthalmus (“One Eyed”) and his son Demetrius Poliorketes (“the Besieger”). For a brief time (circa 315 BC) Antigonas controlled all of Alexander’s Asian Empire. This led his rivals to unite against him: Ptolemy in Egypt; Lysimachos , Satrap of Thrace; Seleucus, who from Babylon took over the eastern Satrapies while Antigonus was occupied in the west; and Cassander, son of the late Antipater “the Regent”, who ruled Macedon.

While Antigonas held his own in Asia, he dispatched Demetrius with an Army to Greece to establish control and to war against Cassander in Macedon and the Aegean. From Athens, where he was worshiped as a “Savior God” after reestablishing democratic governance, Demetius extended Antigonid control throughout central Greece. Using the excellent port of Piraeus as base for the large Antigonid fleet, he soon controlled all the Islands of the Aegean as well. Advancing into Thessaly in 302 BC, Demetrius was preparing for a final showdown with Cassander when he was recalled to Asia to support his father on the eve of the Ipsus Campaign. Demetrius left garrisons of mercenaries to hold the key fortresses. The bulk of his field army was brought to Asia to fight beside his father.

Tetradrachma of Demetrius Poliorcetes 

The Battle of Ipsus (301 BC) was the perhaps the greatest battle of the Successor Wars (we have no figures for the number of combatants who fought at Corupedion in 281 BC, but it is likely to have rivaled the earlier battle). In this fight, Demetrius commanded his father’s right-wing cavalry; meant to deliver the decisive charge that would break the coalition left-wing cavalry, and attack its phalanx from behind. Antigonus was undone when Demetrius, after routing and pursuing Lysimachus’ horsemen from the field, was prevented from returning to the battle by Seleucus’ elephants; which interposed themselves between Demetrius and the battle. (Diodorus claims that Seleucus brought 480 elephants of the 500 he supposedly received from Chandragupta in return for ceding the Punjab (1). Bar-Kochva argues persuasively for a number closer to 150 elephants (2). In either case, the coalition used their elephant force to decisive effect.) The elderly Antigonas was slain amidst his crumbling phalanx, while Demetrius retreated with some survivors to Ephesus.

For the next 4 years Demetrius, reduced to a freebooter, relied upon the strength of his fleet. From Athens, he controlled nothing more than the islands of the Aegean. After Cassander’s death in 297 BC, however, Cassander’s sons fell out and civil war divided theAntipatrid family. Demetrius took advantage of the chaos by first supporting and then murdering one of the contenders; then making himself King of Macedon in 294 BC.

Over the next few years, Demetrius succeeded in making himself the dominant power in Greece, reestablishing strong garrisons at Corinth (the Acrokorinth, the mountain-top citadel towering over the city, was the strongest fortress in Greece); Chalcis on the Island of Euboea; and at his newly-built fortress in Thessaly, Demetrias (near modern Volos). These fortresses (which in the next generation came to be called “the fetters of Greece”) supported a network of lesser garrisons Demetrius established.

The Arcocorinth towers over the ruins of Ancient Corinth. In the Hellenistic era, it was the strongest fortress in Greece, and one of the key Macedonian garrisons during the early Antigonid period; one of the so-called “Fetters of Greece”.

Demetrius was an unpopular king with the Macedonians. Raised in Asia at the Imperial Court of his father, he was ill-equipped to deal with the prickly and plain-spoken Macedonians. In 288 BC a coalition of Pyrrhus of Epirus and Lysimachos of Thrace invaded the country; and the Macedonian soldiers deserted him. Demetrius fled, taking to the sea again for a time, raiding his enemy’s possessions. Then, while campaigning in Cilicia against the Seleucids he was captured (285 BC), and remained under “house arrest” until his death by natural causes three years later.

Demetrius left to his son, Antigonas Gonatas (possibly meaning either “Knock-Knees”, “Armored Knees”, or simply a man of Gonnoi in Thessaly) little more than a few loyal garrisons in Greece; his powerful fleet having deserted to Ptolemy in Egypt upon Demetrius’ capture. However, Antigonas proved an exceptionally patient and crafty statesman; exploiting every opportunity to his advantage. He had also learned his military lessons at the feet of his mighty grandfather and father, proving a very able general as well.(As a ruler and statesman, he perhaps owed even more to his mother, Phila, the wise daughter of Antipater; whom he resembled in both looks and farsightedness).

When the Celts invaded Macedon and Greece in 279 BC, they slew the Macedonian king,Ptolemy Keraunos (the murderer of Seleucus); leaving Macedon kingless and desperate. Antigonas led a force of mercenaries against the barbarians; ambushing and defeating a branch of the invading tribes at Lysimachia in Thrace (277 BC). After this victory, Antigonas was acclaimed king of Macedon; and held the throne against many threats and contenders for the next 38 years.

He found Macedon destitute and its manpower exhausted by losses and migration (Macedonian soldiers were highly sought-after mercenaries in the armies of the other Successor Kingdoms; and most who went abroad never returned, dying in service or settling down as kleruchs in their new homelands). Throughout his long reign Antigonas relied on mercenaries, allowing the Macedonian population a generation to replenish. He maintained his hold on Greece by establishment of client-tyrants in the various cities; and by strong garrisons at Athens, Corinth, Chalcis, and Demetrias. He also painstakingly rebuilt the Antigonid fleet, with which he drove the Ptolemies out of the Aegean with the naval victories at Kos and Andros, 258-248 BC. (Tarn suggests that the famed Winged Victory of Samothrace was a dedication by Antigonas following one of these two victories).

Antigonas left his successors a strong, stable, modest kingdom. Unlike the other Successor states, the Antigonids never aspired to empire; instead content to hold the Macedonian homeland, and to dominate Greece and the Aegean. The army that they fielded was relatively small (only in its last days attaining a measure of the strength it had enjoyed in the days of Philip II and Alexander, prior to the Asian conquests); though its quality was highly respected in the Hellenistic world.

PHALANX

The Macedonian phalanx of the Antigonid Kingdom was famed throughout the ancient world; and while other Successor kingdoms had their own “Macedonians”, these were primarily kleruchs, military settlers, descendants of the Graeco-Macedonian veterans of Alexander and his Diodachii and their Asian/Egyptian wives. The ancient world put great stock in blood, and only Macedon could field true Macedonians of pure blood. (The Macedonians were larger and heartier than the average Greek, an important factor when it came to the “push of pike” that was a feature of phalanx warfare.) Until finally defeated by the Romans, the Macedonian phalangite was considered the premiere heavy infantryman in the world.

Phalangite of Philip II and Alexander. Though his equipment differed in some particulars from the later Antigonid phalangite, his sarissa changed little over the ages, except for length (growing longer with time). 

Unlike the armies of the other Successor Kingdoms (and of Alexander himself) in which cavalry and light troops comprised the majority of the army, the phalanx was the largest component of the Antigonid army. Against the Romans at Kynoscephalae, Philip V’s army was 62% phalangites (the phalanx never exceeded 40% of the troop totals in Alexander’s day). Under his son, Perseus, who took pains to reestablish a balanced force structure, the phalanx shrunk proportionately to 49% of the army; still a far higher proportion than in other Successor armies.

The phalanx was divided into three divisions, or Strategiai, each commanded by aStrategos. These divisions were the Peltastoi, the Chalkaspides, and the Leukaspides. The first provided the “standing army” for the kingdom; while the other two were “reserve” formations. The strength of each fluctuated on campaign (and these divisions may in fact have been ad hoc), but a “paper strength” of 5,000 has been suggested.

The Peltastoi (“Peltasts”, named for the small bronze shields they carried; not to be confused with the 4th century light troops of the same name) were the elite of the army. They were likely comprised of younger men, doing their “hitch” of regular army service before returning to civilian life and the ranks of one of the other two, reserve Strategiai.

Antigonid bronze infantry helmets

Within this body was an elite force, the Agema (which means “Vanguard”; and to whom Livy gives the colorful unit name of Nicatores, “The Conquerors”, “chosen for their strength and enduring energy” (3); though all of the Peltasts were crack troops. At Sellasia in 222 BC Antigonas Doson had 3,000 Peltasts. At Kynoskephalai in 197 BC Philip V had only 2,000 (though in 219 BC this unit had numbered 5,000; the difference in strength perhaps reflecting losses in earlier battles against the Romans). At Pydna in 168 BC the number had risen again to 5,000; of which 2,000 were the Agema, or “Conquerors”.

Unlike the army of Philip II and Alexander, their was no body of elite light infantry Hypaspists. The term “hypaspists” was used in Antigonid Macedon only for members of the King’s inner circle and bodyguards. It has been suggested, however, that either the Peltasts as a whole or the Agema within this corps could perform the same functions as the hypaspists of Alexander’s army. Which is to say, that they were a multipurpose force; capable of being dispatched on light infantry missions, or taking their place in the line of battle as a division of the phalanx.

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ATTILA IS STOPPED AT THE CATALAUNIAN FIELDS!

On June 20, 451 on a broad plain in the Champagne region of France, Attila the Hun, “the Scourge of God”, engaged in his greatest battle. The fate of western civilization lay in the balance.

In Chinese history, the Huns are tentatively identified as the nomadic peoples known in their histories as the Hsiung Nu (“Fierce Slaves”). In the Second Century A.D., the Chinese Han Empire drove the Huns away from their borders in a series of campaigns. The Huns then began their long migration westward, ever searching for fresh pastures for their sheep; and new peoples to plunder and subjugate.

Modern scholarship theorizes that the Huns were not ethnically one people, but a confederation of Mongolian and Turkic nomadic clans. By the time they entered European history in the 4th century, these peoples had fused into one cultural group.

The Huns were first-and-foremost mounted horse archers. From infancy, male children were taught to ride by being placed on the backs of sheep, to prepare them for a life in the saddle. They practiced daily with their primary weapon, the powerful and deadly composite bow. To make themselves appear more ferocious and terrifying to their enemies, their cheeks were slashed with knives and allowed to scar.

19th century depiction of the Huns; showing them as nearly sub-human barbarians!

Like all nomadic horsemen of the Asiatic steppes, the Huns made war as a grand hunt. Spreading out over hundreds of miles, columns of fast-riding raiders would scour the lands of an enemy, plundering outlying farms and driving refugees before them. Their victims were lassoed like sheep or cattle; to be yoked and sold as slaves. In the course of their raids, the Huns were particularly known for their sadistic brutality. Like the later Mongols, they seem to have used terror as a weapon.

Mounted on swift and hardy steppe ponies, the Huns used their superior mobility to keep just out of reach of slower, heavier opponents; all the while wearing them down with a storm of arrows. Only when the enemy was sufficiently weakened by archery would the Huns close in with lance, lasso, and sword to finish them off. Like many nomadic armies of the steppes, the Hunnic nobles fought as heavily armored cavalry lancers. These were a force of last resort, used to deliver the final, decisive charge when the enemy was deemed weakened and on the point of breaking.

Hun light horseman preparing to lasso Alan warriors, 4th century AD

Legend has it that the Huns crossed the swampy lands around the mouth of the Volga River in pursuit of stray sheep. Their, on the western side of the river, they encountered the Goths; who under Ermanaric had established a large Gothic Kingdom in southern Russia. The Goths and the other Germanic tribes of Europe they subsequently encountered, had no adequate response to their mobile tactics. The Huns appeared like demons from some previously unknown dimension of Hell. Every tribe and nation in their path was either conquered or sent fleeing before them.

These defeated survivors of early Hunnic expansion were either absorbed into the Hunnic Empire as oppressed subject peoples; or driven west into the Roman Empire to the west as dangerous refugees. It was fear of the Huns that forced the Visigoths into the Eastern Roman Balkans, leading to the Battle of Adrianople; a demoralizing defeat for Roman arms, and to the death of the Emperor Valens with much of his Army.

In the generation after Adrianople, the Huns settled in the devastated Roman province of Pannonia (modern Austria and Slovenia), and in the lost province of Dacia (modern Hungary). They had come a long way from their original home, north of the Great Wall of China.

From this base of operations along the Roman border, the Huns conducted large scale raids into the Balkans and into lower Germany. Eventually, the Romans found it more expedient to simply bribe the Huns to leave them alone, by payment of an annual tribute.

The southern German tribes were not so fortunate. Most of these were incorporated into the Hunnic Empire as subject nations; forced to send their best warriors to serve as “canon fodder” for their Hunnic masters; and to furnish the beds of Hunnic lords with young women.

The Romans  found the Huns to be effective mercenaries. During the early decades of the 5th century, one particular Western Roman commander used his personal connections with the Hunnic court to fill the ranks of his Household Bucellarii with Hun warriors: Flavius Aëtius . Aëtius had been sent to the Hunnish court as a diplomatic hostage early in his life. There he had made friends with many influential Hunnic lords. When later in his life he rose to prominence as a soldier, he used these friendships to recruit the deadly Hun light horsemen into his bodyguard and into the ranks of the Roman army as foederati.

Aëtius ’ Hunnic retainers and mercenary soldiers gave him an effective fighting force with which to battle Rome’s chief enemies at that time: the Goths, Vandals, and Franks. These Germanic “barbarians” had invaded the Western Roman Empire in the first decade of the 5th century [1], settling in large portions of North Africa, Gaul and Spain. The Western Roman government was often engaged in low-intensity border war with these interlopers. It was in just such skirmishes that Aëtius’ Huns were most effective.

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NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGN (PART ONE)

Napoleon Bonaparte bestrode his world like a colossus. Rising amidst the bloody chaos of the French Revolution, he established a new order; and left France a mythic hero to surpass Charlemagne.

Napoleon began his career as a young officer of artillery. He first made his mark in 1794 as the commander of the artillery during the Siege of Toulon. The following year he saved the Republican government (The Directory) from a Parisian mob, by unleashing artillery fire into the crowd (the “whiff of grapeshot”). He was rewarded with command of the French Army operating against the Austrians in northern Italy; all this at the age of 27.

Once in command of his own army, the young Bonaparte went from victory-to-amazing-victory, never looking back.

After defeating the Austrians in Italy (1796) and conquering Mameluke Egypt (1798), he returned to France to take over the reigns of government as First Consul of the Republic. After defeating the Austrians in Italy again in 1800 at the Battle of Marengo, his popularity and political dominance over France were assured. In 1804 he crowned himself Emperor of the French (L’Empereur des Français). At the head of a well trained and drilled “Grande Armee”, he went on in the next eight years to conquer an empire surpassing that of Charlemagne. At its peak, the Napoleonic Empire spanned Europe from the Tagus to the Nieman; from Straits of Messina to the Skagerrak.

But after the disastrous Russian Campaign of 1812, which resulted in the destruction of theGrande Armee, Napoleon faced a determined coalition of hostile nations; financed by the wealth of the British Empire and determined upon his overthrow. In the battles of 1813-1814, he was continually beaten and forced to retreat; ultimately to the very outskirts of Paris. Despite a brilliant defensive campaign by the now-aging Emperor, the will amongst his Marshals to continue the struggle eroded away; and one-by-one they surrendered to the Allied armies invading France. Napoleon was forced to abdicate. In 1814, according to the terms of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, he was granted a genteel exile upon the Island of Elba, near Corsica, the place of his birth. After his departure, the Bourbon monarchy was restored, backed by allied armies that ringed the country.

In February of 1815, in response to growing national disaffection with the Bourbon government and the arrogance of the returning expatriate aristocracy, as well as a belief that the Allies were planning to violate the treaty and exile him to a small island in the South Atlantic; Napoleon returned from exile. Marshal of France Michel Ney was dispatched with forces to arrest the exile. Ney promised the King he would bring “the Ogre” back to Paris in a cage. Instead, he and the veterans he commanded rallied around their former master; and the Bourbon’s once again fled France. Returning to Paris, Napoleon was once again firmly in place as Emperor of the French.

Immediately the Allied Powers prepared to invade France. For the next 100 days, Napoleon’s fortunes and the map of Europe lay in the balance, as events hastened toward the climatic battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Though he attempted, in a flurry of diplomatic correspondence, to assure the Allies of his peaceful intentions; their armies were massed along the border, preparing to invade France and drag the “Ogre” from his throne.

Showing a level of energy and organizational genius reminiscent of his earlier years, Napoleon quickly raised an army of veterans (many of which had spent the latter part of his campaigns as POWs in England, or stuck in isolated garrisons, and returned to France remembering still the glorious triumphs of the past). When his peace overtures were spurned, the Emperor decided to strike first, before the Allied armies could move in concert against France. He targeted first those nearest to Paris, the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian armies in Belgium. He knew that the British and Prussians were widely dispersed, and could be defeated in detail. Further, that the British at least were of dubious quality; as much of Wellington’s Peninsular War veterans had been sent to America for the (disastrous) New Orleans Campaign; while many of the Dutch-Belgians had once been part of his own army, whose willingness to fight for their new masters was questionable.

OPPOSING FORCES AND COMMANDERS

The combined British, Dutch-Belgian and Hanoverian forces in Belgium numbered some 93,000, scattered in bivouacs across the southern part of the country. They were of mixed quality, but most were inexperienced and unreliable (particularly the Dutch troops, under the Prince of Orange). They were commanded by the redoubtable “Iron Duke”, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Wellington had

been enormously successful in defeating some of Napoleon’s best Marshals in Spain. But he had never crossed swords on the battlefield with the master himself. Napoleon had scant respect for Wellington, who he disparagingly called “the Sepoy general”; a reference to Wellington’s early career commanding British forces in India. Wellington for his part had the utmost respect for Napoleon as a commander: “His presence on the (battle) field made the difference of forty thousand men.”

The Prussians in eastern Belgium were commanded by crusty old Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, an old foe who Napoleon had faced during the campaigns of 1813-1814. He was a dogged, aggressive, and determined (if an unimaginative) commander. Blücher had a deep and abiding hatred for Napoleon and the French; due to the perceived humiliation Napoleon had inflicted upon his nation in 1806. On the approach to Waterloo, he commanded his men to take “No prisoners! Show no pity! I will shoot any man I see with pity in him.” His forces in Belgium numbered 116,000, and were headquartered about Namur.

Napoleon’s Armee du Nord, numbering 128,000 men, was qualitatively the best army he had commanded since the debacle in Russia in 1812. Many of them were veterans of the victorious campaigns of Marengo, Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena and Auerstedt; some perhaps even remembered battling at the foot of the Pyramids! Thousands of these had spent the last few years in garrisons throughout the empire, in Spain, or as prisoners of the Allies; and having missed the bloody defeats of recent years, remembered only Napoleon’s invincible days of old. They were well rested, and ready to reclaim the lost glories of their youth. The cavalry, in particular, had benefited from the brief peace of 1814, and were more numerous and better mounted than any Napoleon had at his disposal in the terrible campaigns of 1813-1814.

But though his troops were first-rate, and the Emperor seemed at the start of the campaign to have regained the vigor of his earlier years, many of the advantages once enjoyed by the French were no more….

 

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DEADLIEST BLOGGER’S GREATEST QUOTES ON WAR 2

If you loved the first list, here is Deadliest Blogger’s list of favorite military quotes, part two:

“Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar, on the very brief campaign against the Pontians.

“When the situation is obscure, attack!” – General Heinz Guderian

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” – Sun Tzu

“Naipierw pobijemy, a potem policzemy!” (First we kill them, then, we count them) – Attributed to an anonymous commander of the Polish Winged Hussars

“Few men are born brave. Many become so through training and force of discipline.” – Flavius Vegetius

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” – General Robert Edward Lee

“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” – Winston Churchill, when questioned during Operation Barbarossa how he, a life-long anti-communist, could call for support of Stalin.

“We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means.” – Carl Von Clausewitz

“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” – JRR Tolkien

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. – Sun Tzu

“In war truth is the first casualty.” – Often attributed to Aeschylus

“During war truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” – Winston Churchill

“”A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.” – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., on the value of hard training.

“The art of concentrating strength at one point, forcing a breakthrough, rolling up and securing the flanks on either side, and then penetrating like lightning, before the enemy has time to react, deep into his rear.” – Gen. Erwin Rommel, on the definition of Blitzkrieg (“Lightning War”); as he practiced it in France, 1940

“War is the province of chance.” – Carl von Clausewitz

“I shall return!” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur, on departing from the Philippines in 1942

“I have not yet begun to fight” – John Paul Jones

“Molon labe!” (Come and take them!) – Leonidas of Sparta, in response to the Persian demand that the Spartans at Thermopylae lay down their arms.

“Nuts” – General Anthony McAuliffe, Dep. Commander 101st Airborne Division at the Battle of the Bulge, in response to the German demand for the surrender of Bastogne.

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GRANICUS: ALEXANDER’S MOST PERILOUS BATTLE!

granico

In 334 B.C., Alexander son of Philip, third king of Macedon to bear that name, was only 21 years of age. But while young, Alexander was already a proven commander; prepared to begin his storied career as one of history’s greatest commanders and conquerors. But he would have to survive his first trial of arms against the forces of the Persian Empire, in what would prove his more perilous battle!

Philip II, that wily statesman and gifted general who had subdued Greece and forged a Hellenic alliance against Persia, before being struck down by an assassin’s blade; had raised his eldest son, Alexander, to lead in his footsteps. From Philip, Alexander had learned the arts (and sciences) of war and kingship; and so confident was Philip in his preternaturally gifted son and heir that he had entrusted to Alexander command of an Army, and regency of the kingdom, when Alexander was only 16 years old.

The boy had won his first victory in battle that year, leading the Macedonian home guard against Thracian hill tribesmen of the southern Balkans (and founding there a Macedonian colony, Alexandropolis; the first of the many cities named for himself he would leave in his wake throughout his short but spectacular life ). Soon after, Alexander had commanded his father’s elite heavy cavalry at the Battle of Chaeronea; where the southern Greek states were finally brought to heel and forced to accept Macedonian leadership.

Upon Philip’s death in 336 B.C., Alexander was proclaimed king by the Macedonian army. His first two years was spent securing his father’s gains. Campaigning successfully first against the ever-restive Illyrians to the northwest of Macedon,  he then had to respond to a revolt by the allied Greek states to the south. He responded by storming the most dangerous of the rebel cities, Thebes; the brutal destruction of which shocked the other Greek states into submission.

His base secured, Alexander marshalled his forces for the great enterprise his father had envisioned: a war of retribution against Greece’s ancient enemy, the Persians.

THE INVASION OF ASIA

Alexander bid farewell to Macedon in 334, leaving Amphipolis in April at the head of an army of just under 37,000 men. Marching east along the northern Aegean coast, Alexander arrived at the narrow Hellespont (Dardanelles), the narrow straits that separate Europe from Asia, in May. While the mainbody of the army was ferried across, Alexander and a picked guard sailed down the straits to Troy. As he came ashore, he cast a spear; symbolically claiming Asia to be “won by the spear”. It was an ancient challenge, and it was now for the Persians to refute his claim to ownership.

1 - Alex at Troy

After holding athletic games at Troy, and sacrificing at the tomb of his ancestor and role-model, Achilles, Alexander rejoined his army and prepared to move against the Persians. South of the plain of Illium the rich Greek cities of the Ionian coast were barred to him by Mount Ida; whose passes were guarded by Persian troops. Learning that the main Persian awaited him on the plains of Zeleia to the east, Alexander instead moved northeastward; both turning the Ida position and seeking battle with Persian field forces.

The army of the local Persian satraps (governors) were commanded by a Greek mercenary general, Memnon of Rhodes, appointed by the Great King, Darius III  (who was still in distantSusa, one of the three Persian royal residences). Memnon knew well how formidable the Macedonians were in battle, and had urged the satraps to avoid battle and instead adopt a scorched earth policy. But jealous of Memnon’s promotion over command them, these proud nobles refused his advice as “cowardly”; and moved directly to oppose Alexander’s invasion.

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CANNONS AT PANIPAT: THE FOUNDING OF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE

panipat_mainfull

In 1525 a descendant of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane crossed the Khyber Pass with a tiny army in a desperate gamble: an attack on the powerful Sultanate of Delhi. On the dusty plain of Panipat, he would lay the foundation of India’s mightiest empire: the Mughal! 

Few would-be warlords were born with a more illustrious pedigree than Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur, commonly known as simply Babur (“Tiger”). Born in 1483 the eldest son of the Timurid king of Ferghana, he was descended from Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur the Lame (known to the English-speaking world as “Tamerlane“) on his father’s side. On his mother’s side, he enjoyed an even more celebrated ancestor: no less than Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire and perhaps history’s greatest conqueror.

EARLY YEARS

But the empires of these two great ancestors had long-since fragmented into petty kingdoms and khanates. Babur’s prospects for future greatness seemed unlikely, his place in the world around him uncertain. As his father’s son, Babur was heir to nothing more than the mountain-girt valley of Ferghana; bordered on the east by Kashgar, and in the west by Samarkand, former capital of the Timurid Empire. The kingdom’s only significance  was that it lay along the northern portion of the Silk Road. That, and the excellence of its horses. When his father, Umar Sheikh Mirza, died in 1494 (two years after Columbus discovered the Americas) the twelve-year-old Babur [1] inherited the throne. The boy’s right to rule was immediately challenged by powerful  uncles who ruled neighboring kingdoms (most of the rulers of this region were relatives of the boy, descendants of Timur).

The arid Fergana valley, today; which straddles eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyztan and northern Tajikistan. Straddling the northern Silk Road, herein lay the petty kingdom to which young Babur was heir.  

Despite his extreme youth, Babur held onto his throne; thanks to the skill of his maternal grandmother and the kingdom’s regent, Aisan Daulat Begum. This Mongol princess was descended from Chaghatai Khan, the second son of Genghis Khan; and possessed all the courage and political skills of those great men. Throughout his minority, she guided Babur and taught him the arts of king-craft. She also taught him of the military exploits of Genghis Khan and of  Timur; his earliest lessons in the art of warfare. Ever prepared to give praise and thanks where it was due, Babur later wrote of her: “Few among women will have been my grandmother’s equal for judgement and counsel; she was very wise and farsighted and most affairs of mine were carried through under her advise.”

In 1497, the ambitious and capable young Babur decided upon nothing less than the capture of the imperial Timurid city of Samarkand. This city was at that time one of the wealthiest and most populous in the world; as well as a place of great learning. In alliance with his cousin Sultan Ali of Bukhara, Babur marched upon the city. This was a bold move for a fifteen year old warlord. The siege lasted seven months; and throughout the young Babur showed a grasp of strategy and far-sighted judgement well beyond his years. As winter came, the young king’s officers wanted to disperse back to their homes. But not wishing to lift the blockade on Samarkand, Babur instead dispersed his army into winter quarters in towns and fortresses around the city.

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The haunting ruins of the once-great city of Samarkand

While dispersed about the city, a relief army approached from the north. These were fierce Uzbek Turks, nomads off the steppes north of the Aral Sea. “Untainted” by the softening influences of civilization and wealth, these Uzbeks were possessed of all the savage ferocity and hardiness that was characteristic of the first generation of Mongols who followed Genghis Khan off the steppes, to lay the world beneath their horses hoofs.  This Uzbek horde was led by another descendant of Genghis Khan (through his eldest son, Jochi): their formidable Khan, Muhammad Shaybani.  This Uzbek leader was the last great Mongol conqueror to come out of the central Asian steppe; and a man who would prove to be the nemesis of Babur’s early life….

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DEADLIEST BLOGGER’S GREATEST QUOTES ON WAR 2

If you loved the first list, here is Deadliest Blogger’s list of favorite military quotes, part two:

“Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar, on the very brief campaign against the Pontians.

“When the situation is obscure, attack!” – General Heinz Guderian

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” – Sun Tzu

“Naipierw pobijemy, a potem policzemy!” (First we kill them, then, we count them) – Attributed to an anonymous commander of the Polish Winged Hussars

“Few men are born brave. Many become so through training and force of discipline.” – Flavius Vegetius

“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” – General Robert Edward Lee

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