The Battle of
Antioch (538 AD)

Sassanids vs. Early Byzantines

By Stefanos Skarmintzos

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In 538 AD, the Sassanid High King Chosroes lay seige to Antioch, hoping to capture the city by storm before the Byzantine Emperor Justinian could send Belissarios with a relieving army. Orokasiada provided a commanding height overlooking the city. Proposals to fortify the hill to deny its use to the Persians had been rejected. Instead the Byzantine general Voutzes had galleries raised over the city walls above the level of the hill. The hastily-built galleries collapsed and the Persians stormed the city across the resulting breech. Street fights ensued, but the shaky Byzantines regulars lost their nerve and fled. Chosroes drove the mobs from the city streets with a charge from his Immortals that brought them to the city Cathedral. Antioch never recovered from that day. Most of the accounts of the battle come from Procopios and from the Life of Belissarios by contemporary chorniclers.

The Armies

Chosroes, High King of Iran, Sassanid Persian (II/69, modified): 1x 3Cv//Sp (Gen), 1xKn//4Bd ("Immortals"), 4x3Cv//4Sp, 2x 2Lh//2Ps,1xBw, 2xSp, 1x 3Ax, 1xPs, 2xHd (siege workers and camp servants wanting to loot) and 1xWWg (siege tower).

Defenders of Antioch (Early Byzantines, III/4, modified) -- The defense of Antioch is entrusted to the Byzantine General Voutzes, whose forces are deployed in two commands:

  • Regulars (lead personally by Voutzes) -- 1x 3Cv//4Sp (Gen), 3x 3Cv//4Sp, 2x 2Lh//2Ps 2x 4Sp

  • Irregulars (lead by the Administrator Anthemios) -- 2x 3Aux (Greens-Veneti circus fractions), 1x 2Ps, 4x 7Hd (desperate citizens).


Defenders -- The defenders deploy first. The regulars start dismounted, positioned on the city walls. At least three element of regulars must be deployed on each side of the city gate, with one element on each side adjacent to the city gate. No defender can be deployed anywhere within 2 inches of the designated breach. The irregulars may be deployed anywhere within the city, except for the city walls or on the adjacent wall road.

Sassanids -- The Sassanids deploy second and move first as attackers. All cavalry except the 3Kn and 1x 2Lh must start the game dismounted

Battle Map

Terrain Notes -- Terrain is as indicated on the battlemap. The dark gray represents the city wall, with both a gate and a breach indicated. Light gray represents roads. Brown squares are buildings, which are treated as modified BUAs (see special rules). Orchards are bad going woods. The buildings should be positioned to allow 40mm or 80mm gaps between them as appropriate. Orokasiada is treated as a gentle hill with very steep (impassable) reverse slope. The breach in the wall is treated as broken terrain and represents rubble from the collapse of the galleries. The Byzantine camp is the city cathedral.

Special Rules

  • Entering the City -- Sassanids may enter the city by four methods -- storming the breach, opening the gate, scaling the wall, or through use of the seigetower. It is assumed each Sassanid foot element (including dismounted troops) has ladders available for scaling. Wall defenders fight at +3 when defending the wall against scaling attackers or shooters and at +1 versus attacks from the wartower. No more than two elements can provide overlap support to any attack or defense of the wall. Attackers storming the breach (and the breach defenders) fight and move as in bad going terrain.

  • Opening The Gate -- Any Sassanid element that has successfully entered the city can move to and attempt to open the gate. Once the attacker is in contact with the gate and not otherwise occupied by combat, the gate can be opened the next bound with the expenditure of one pip. Defenders on the wall cannot prevent the gate from being opened from above, but can descend the wall to protect the gate. Once opened, the gate provides a 40mm wide, good going passage through the wall.

  • The Seige Tower -- The seige tower moves at 200P, and may not cross any hill, bad going or impassable terrain (e.g. city walls). One Sassanid element may be deployed at the start of the game in the seige tower. Thereafter, one adjacent element can move through (i.e. climb) the tower each bound to end on the wall (or on the ground, if retiring from the wall) at a cost of 1 PIP. The tower shields its occupants from missile fire until in contact with the wall. The Byzantines did not made preparations to defend against the tower with Greek fire, grappling hooks or other seige defences, hence the tower is basically impervious to attack. The only way that it can be destroyed is by moving a Byzantine element into the tower (after defeating its occupants) or in contact with its base, and devoting one bound (at a cost of 1 PIP) to setting fires and dismantling supports.

  • Fighting on the Walls -- Elements atop the city wall may fight any enemy element also atop the wall, or any adjacent element attempting to scale it or reach it by seige tower. Elements atop the wall cannot engage elements on the ground (including elements moving through the gate or the breach) except by missile fire. Byzantine and Sassanid troops atop the city walls that are forced to recoil, have the option of dismounting the wall the way they came, or of moving along the wall away from the victorius enemy and toward the nearest friendly unit. Troops atop the city wall that are forced to flee, must dismount the wall and move the full flee distance toward their baseline. Troops may mount or dismount the wall defenses using stairs or scaling ladders at a 100P move. Troops atop the city walls fight with a +1 advantage over troops ascending the wall by stairs from within Antioch (i.e. same as hill advantage).

  • Command and Control -- Once inside the city, the fighting will be desperate and the combatants will naturally be aggressive, attacking and defending without need of superior orders. Therefore, for this scenario, the city walls, buildings and groves do not block command and control, and each general will always benefit from a full command radius of 1,200 paces.

  • Built-Up-Areas -- The BUAs indicated on the game map represent large and small buildings of stone and mud brick. A building can be defended by one foot element, which mans the perimeter and can shoot (if Bw) in a complete radius. Buildings block line of sight for missile fire, but do not affect command and control. Small buildings provide a +1 to defenders, large buildings provide a +2, to close combat and in defense against missile fire. Cavalry and LH may attack (at -1 to close combat in addition to defender's bonuses), but may not enter or move through a building. Knights may not attack a building (except the Byzantine camp). Bow or Ps elements in buildings may give support to friendly troops fighting in the adjacent street if in side edge contact with the building), otherwise no support is allowed. A building can be attacked by up to four elements, one to each side, with one designated as the attacker and the others providing support. Ignore the DBA BUA rules regarding garrisons, surrender, puppet administrations, etc.

  • Shaky Byzantines -- The morale of the Byzantine forces was somewhat shaky, and they historically abandoned the city after the Sassanids breached the walls, leaving the Irregulars under Anthemios to defend their city. To reflect this, if Voutzes is killed, or if 2 or more Byzantine elements are destroyed, the regulars will abandon their posts and flee toward the Byzantine baseline, fighting like demoralized troops in Big Battle DBA. At that point, Anthemios assumes command of the defense, and one of the irregular elements is designated as a General. Note: Byzantines who manage to flee off the board do not cost as lost elements for purpose of determining victory conditions.

  • Mounting/Dismounting-- Any eligible element may mount or dismount as a one pip single element move. Dismounted elements that have crossed over or through the wall by any means other than through the gate, are no longer eligible to remount.

Victory Conditions

Chosroes can win by killing or demoralizing both Voutzes and Anthemios, by controlling the gate and seizing the Byzantine camp (the Citadel of Antioch), or by killing 5 or more defenders (regulars and/or irregulars).

The defenders can win by killing Chosroes or 5 elements.

Designer Notes

The concept for this scenario was developed by Stefanos Skarmintzos and adapted by Chris Brantley. It was inspired by discussions of seige warfare in DBA, and hence required a number of special rules to simulate wall and street fighting, as well as historically-specific rules. Fanatici suggestions and feedback are much appreciated.

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Last Update:  8 May 2005

Thanks to SS for contributing this scenario.
Comments and feedback welcome and can be sent to Chris Brantley.