DBA Resource Page

Ancient Armies

Bactrian and Indo-Greeks (250-55 BC)
(DBA 50)

Bactrian Army
The Bactrian Phalanx - photo by Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

Bactria is geographically located in the northern part of modern Afghanistan and in the south of the modern republics of Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan between the Hindu Kush Mountains and the Oxus River (now Amu Darya). It corresponds to the North-East part of Alexander the Great's empire.

Originally intended to defend the Eastern satrapies of the Seleucid empire from the Mauryans and other powers in the East, Bactria seceded around 250 BC, when the Parthians severed communications from the rest of the empire. The satrap Diodotos proclaimed the independence of Bactria and took the title of king. His son, Diodotos II, was overthrown by Euthydemos I who founded a new dynasty. When the Seleucid king Antiochos III started the reconquest of the lost territories, Euthydemos I was unable to prevent the conquest of Bactria and he took refuge in the capital, Bactres. After a siege of two years and taking into consideration Bactriaıs position as defender of Hellenism against the pressure of the nomads from the North, Antiochus was persuaded to recognize Euthydemos as king.

About 200 BC, Demetrios I started the conquest of the Indo-Kush and North-East India, establishing the Graeco-Indian (or Indo-Greek) Kingdom. Starting in 190 BC, Demetrios' sons governed together the new kingdom which expanded progressively to all the Punjab. One of the Greek rulers of Bactria, Menander (155 - 130 BC), conquered much of northern India and, under the name Milinda, became one of the most revered figures of Buddhism.

In 170 BC, Eucratides overthrew Demetrios II and Antimachos II in the name of the Seleucids and took control of the kingdom. He was murdered about 145 BC by his son Eucratides II and at the same time, nomadic tribes, which occupied Southern Bactria, crossed the river Oxus and began the dissolution of Greek domination in Bactria. The kingdom was finally overrun by the Sakas about 130 BC, and then by the Kushans, an offshoot of the Yeuh-chi clan from western China.

This list covers both the Graeco-Bactrian states in from 250 BC ­ 130 BC and the Graeco-Indian or Indo-Greek kingdom from 170 BC ­ 55 BC.

It should be pointed out that, based on the DBM list in Book 2, the list fails to properly reflect either the Bactrian-Greek army (which contains no Indian units) or the Indo-Greek army (which contains no Kn and should have a higher proportion of Indian troops). Variant lists for these armies are included at the end of this essay.

Enemies

Enemies in the DBA list include Early Indian (21a), Scythian or Saka (25), Early Seleucid (41a), Later Seleucid (41b) and Parthian (51). An enemy overlooked by the authors are the Kushans (21b).

Army Composition

2 x 3Kn These represent the Iranian lancers which made up a large part of the mounted portion of a Bactrian-Greek army. They were armed with a bow but were more likely to charge with lance.
1 x 2LH This element represents the Arachosian light horsemen armed with javelins and highly valued in this army just as they had been in the Persian army under the Achaeminids. It might alternatively be Bactrian light horse armed with javelins and bow or Saka horse archers.
4 x 4Pk Phalangites similar to those in other Hellenistic armies. They made up the majority of Bactrian-Greek foot. In Indo-Greek armies they would often be outnumbered by Indian bowmen.
2 x El These may be crewed by two Greeks in a howdah and armed with javelins (Graeco-Bactrian) or by Indians armed with bow or javelin (Indo-Greek) in addition to the driver or mahout.
2 x 3Lb These represent subject Indian foot in an Indo-Greek army. The majority of Indian foot were armed with a large bamboo bow but would have ceased carrying the massive two handed sword after the fall of the Mauryan Empire in India in 180BC.
1 x 2Ps These can represent Mountain Indian or Cretan mercenary bowmen.

Tactics

While historically incorrect, this army offers a good balance of solid infantry and hard-hitting Kn and El together with a LH element for flanking and mobility. The almost complete lack of light infantry is somewhat offset by the 2 relatively speedy Lb elements.

The following are some general guidelines for fighting historical opponents. As I gain more experience with this army I will update if need be.

  • Early Indians ­ Your enemyıs Bw have quick kill in close combat vs your Kn and his HCh can kill your Pk. Your only real strengths against this army are your Pk who can double his Bw fairly easily, even single ranked, and your LH is faster than anything he has. This is, in addition, one of the few armies which you outnumber in light troops so you have the ability to work on his flanks. Unfortunately, his flanks may be hard to reach since he has no reason to double rank anything and you may be forced to double rank your Pk. Try to hit his HCh (Kn) with your El for the quick kill. This match-up will depend a lot on initial set-up.

  • Saka (Scythians) ­ Single rank your Pk; make it as difficult to outflank you as possible because that is his only advantage against you. You have lots of powerful mounted units that will kill him if you double him, and he has nothing that can quick kill you. (The exception being that his LH can quick kill your Kn and his LH and optional Aux or Ps can quick kill your El, but the odds are heavily in your favour). He is much faster than you are, though, so watch your camp.

  • Seleucid ­ The Early version of this army is remarkably similar to yours with the exception that he replaces your Bw with another Ps and Kn. You are again outnumbered in light troops (your 1x2LH and 1x2Ps vs his 1x2LH and 2x2Ps). Your advantage lies in proper use of your Bw ­ try to use them to kill or neutralize his 3xKn.

    Against the Later Army, his seemingly unlimited variety of troop types means that it will be difficult, at best, to formulate a "one size fits all" strategy against him. He will outnumber you in LH by two to one and in Kn by three to two. He will have an Aux unit and possibly a Ps, so you will be outmatched in rough terrain. Your strengths will again lie in your Bw vs his Kn and in the fact that you outnumber him in El who can also quick kill Kn. I have found that the SCh is not quite as ferocious as it would initially appear, your Ps (which will likely be avoiding the bad going that his light troops control) can keep it occupied until the battle is over or until you can help it along with some overlaps.

  • Parthian ­ Similar to tactics employed against the Sakae, except that the Parthian Kn are slower than the Saka Cv. In addition, remember that the Kn must advance after destroying or recoiling any of your units, setting up opportunities for overlaps or flank attacks. On the other hand, Kn quick kill Pk, so you will want to consider double ranking them, even designating one as a general (a double edged sword, admittedly, since this gives you a factor of 8 vs mounted but a quick kill knocks out two elements plus your general ­ pretty costly). You could probably secure one flank with your Bw, which the Kn wont approach and the LH will find difficult to defeat.

In general, one can normally pick a number of quick-kill combinations while applying pressure with the Pk. Double ranking Pk will make them nearly indestructible but will shorten the line, allowing some enemies the opportunity to outflank. The readersı comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

Camps

Forthcoming

Miniatures and Painting Tips

Forthcoming


Variants

The following are variants based on DBM lists and using the conversion method found on page 22 of the DBA rulebook.

Graeco-Bactrian 250 BC ­ 130 BC (DBA 50a)

This list contains provisions for an all mounted army as fielded by Euthydemos in 208BC to counter an attempt by the Seleucids to reclaim the kingdom.

Option A Option B
3 x 2LH (Arachosians and Bactrians) 3 x 2LH (Arachosians and Bactrians)
2 x 3Kn (Iranian Lancers) 2 x 3Kn (Iranian Lancers)
4 x 4Pk 1 x 3Cv
1 x 3Ax (Mountain Indian Spear) 3 x 2Lh (Bactrians)
1 x 2Ps or 3Bw (Mountain Indian Bow) 3 x 3Kn (Iranian Lancers)
1 x El ---

Graeco-Indian 170 BC ­ 55 BC (DBA 50b)

This list represents the Greek kingdoms in India. Historically, a very large proportion of troops should be subject Indians.

1 x 2LH (Arachosians)
4 x 4Pk
1 x 3Ax (Mountain Indian Spear)
1 x 2Ps or 3Bw (Mountain Indian Bow)
1 x 3Cv (Indians)
3 x 3Lb (Indians)
1 x El


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Last Updated: June 5, 1999

Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.