The Battle of
Kleidi Pass
(28 July 1014 AD)

Early Bulgar vs. Nikephorian Byzantine

By Stefanos Skarmintzos

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The Bulgarians were the biggest threat that the Byzantine Emperor Vasilios II (aka Basil the Bulgar Slayer) had to face during his long reign. Once vassals of the Byzantines, the Bulgar threat started with the insurrection of Czar Samuel in 979. Until his first crucial defeat in 997, Samuel fought the Byzantine empire to the brink of extinction. But from then onwards the Byzantine army forced Czar Samuel on the defensive, recovering lost territory and attacking Bulgaria proper.

In the summer of 1014 AD, Czar Samuel occupied the valley of the river Strimon and built earth works in the pass of Kleidi to bar the path of the larger Byzantine Army. Having secured his eastern border Vasilios advanced to subjugate the remaining Bulgarian forts only to find the "Kimvas Logos" route that he used for his invasions blocked by the Bulgarian fortifications.

The emperoršs initial attacks on 26th of July were repulsed so he adopted a strategem proposed by his general Nikephoros Xifias who offered to lead a flanking force to attack the Bulgarians from behind. Xifias left with the army's pack mules as if departing to Thessalonica to obtain supplies and timber for siege engines. Once out of sight, he mounted his infantry on the mules and turned eastward through the passes of Mount Valathista around the Bulgarian lines. On July 28th the Bulgarians were occupied by the emperoršs frontal attacks on their fortified line when suddenly Xifias troops attacked them from behind.

With the Bulgarian ranks in disarray, Vasilios personally lead the main Byzantine force in a decisive frontal attack. Czar Samuel lost his nerve and fled. His son Gabriel-Romanos covered his retreat, but 15,000 Bulgarians were taken prisoner. Vasilios declared them traitors and mutineers and had them all blinded as this was the penalty for treason. On his instructions, one Bulgar in every 100 was left with one good eye to lead the blinded soldiers home. When the unfortunate wretches reached the Bulgarian stronghold at Prilapos, the Czar Samuel was so overwhemed by the sight that he suffered a stroke and died. It took another four years of moping up until the Byzantines finally pacified Bulgaria.

The Armies

The armies are modified for Double-DBA (24 elements)

  • Bulgarians: 4x3Cv, 6x2LH, 8x3Aux, 4x2Ps, 2xBw. Divide into two equal commands, each lead by a 3Cv(Gen).

  • Nikephorian Byzantine: 1xCv(CnC) 3x4Kn (Tagmata), 6x3Cv (Thematic units), 2x4Sp, 2xBw, 2x2Ps, 2x4Bd (Varangian), 1x2LH (Petcheneg) , 1x2LH (Trapezitoi), 4xAux (Evzona).

Deployment

Bulgarians deploy first close or behind the fortified positions. The Bulgar left is commanded by the czar Samuel and the right position commanded by his son czarevits Gabriel-Romanos. All Bulgarians must face the Byzantine baseline. They can turn and face the flanking command only after its appearance.

The Byzantines deploy second and attack, reserving eight (8) elements (not including Varangians or Knights) off-board as the flank command under Nikephoros. Secretly roll one 1D6 to determine on which bound the flanking force will appear. It enters in march column anywhere along the east side of the board.

Each army deploys one camp, which must be placed on their respective baselines in good going within 2 inches of the river.

Game Map

           ============Bulgarian Baseline===================
              . . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
              . . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . . .
              c . . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . .
              c f . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . #
              H f . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . # F
              F # f . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . # F    N
              H f # . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . # # H  W-|-E 
              F # # h . . . . . . . r M . . . . . . . . . # # c    S
              F # # h . . . . . . . M r . . . . . . . . h # # F
              F # # h h . . . . . . M r . . . . . . . h f f # H
              H f # h h h . . . . . M r . . . . . . h h f f # F
              c # h h h h . . . . . r M . . . . . h h h h h # F
              H f h h h + + . . . . r . . . . . + + + h h h # c
              F # + + + . . . . . . r . . . . . . . h + + + # F
              F # h h . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . h h h # H
              F # f . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . h h # F
              F f f . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . f f
              c f . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . f
              f . . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . .
              . . . . . . . . . . . . r . . . h . . . . . . . .
              . . . . . . . . . . . . r . . h h h . . . . . . .
              . . . . . . . . . . . . r . . h h h . . . . . . .
              o o . . . . . . . . . . r . . . h . . . . . . . .
              o o . . . . . . . . . . r . . . . . . . . . . . .
              ===========Byzantine Baseline====================
              SCALE: The space between each dot/letter is one inch.

TERRAIN KEY:

.=Good Going (Good Going)
#=Rough/Broken Ground (Bad Going)
h=Gentle Hill (Good Going)
H=Steep Hill (Impassable)
c=Cliff (Impassable)
f=Light Wood (Bad Going)
F=Heavy Wood (Impassable)
s=Stream 
r=River
M=Marsh/Bog (Bad Going)
B=Built Up Area 
o=Orchard (Bad Going)
+=fortification

Terrain Notes: The heavy wood, steep hills and cliffs are the impassable mountains Kerkini and Valathista. The broken ground represents the passable parts of the mountains but should have higher elevation than the other terrain elements. The Strimon river is paltry.

Special Rules

Fortifications: Fortifications are wooden obstacles (log pallisades and emplaced stakes), which are defended like a river bank. Attacker fights at -1 if attacking across fortifications.

Dismounting: Bulgarian Cavalry dismounts as Spear and Light Horse dismounts as Psiloi. The state of the Bulgarian army at the time was such that it could not field regular spears. The Bulgarian General elements dismount as Blades.

Byzantine Knights dismount as Blades. Thematic horse was composed from a mix of horse archers and lancers. No single element can dismount. Two adjacent elements of Thematic horse can dismount together as 1xSp and 1xBw and fight as a group. Byzantine Trapezitoi (Lh) dismount as Auxilia.

Once dismounted, an element may not remount.

Czarevits To the Rescue: Few princes were as loyal to their fathers as the Czarevits Gabriel-Romanos was to his father Czar Samuel. To simulate this, if Czar Samuel's element is attacked at any point after the arrival of the Byzantine flanking command, Gabriel-Romanos will abandon his command and move by the fastest possible route (making priority use of his command's pip die) to aid his father's element. The Czarevits will fight by his father's side for the balance of the battle even if that puts his own command out of control.

Victory Conditions

Victory goes to the first side to kill the CnC's element or demoralize both enemy commands. Loss of a camp counts as two elements lost to the CnC's command.

Background Resources

Oxford Press "History of the Byzantine Empire"
Skylitzes "Chronicon"
Psellos "Chrongraphia"
G. Schlumberger "Byzantine Epic; Vassilios the Bulgarian slayer"

Notes

The army of Vasilios Vulgroktonos was the "Rolls-Royce" of the Byzantine Armies. I modified the DBA list using the previous version of Army lists and tried to give it a historical look at least as I interpret it. I do not believe that the interpretation of this army is correct in DBA 2.2 since the scoutatoi in reality were spears backed up by regular archers. The 8Bw classification does not adequately represent this in my opinion. I would be glad to hear your comments though. I am also curious to see if someone tries this with the unmodified lists.


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Last Update:  26 June 2005

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