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Battle of Maranga (363 AD)

By Chris Jones

In the third century AD, the Parthian empire, which had been a thorn in the side of the Eastern border of the Roman empire for centuries, was overthrown by that of the Sassanian dynasty. Parthian nobles continued to serve in the army supplying the super heavy cataphract cavalry. An initial period of expansion by the Sassanid Persians was followed by a series of weaker rulers whose attention was taken by revolts within their own empire and the threat of the Kushans to the East. In consequence, during the third century AD, Varham II had ceded territory under treaty to the Romans including Armenia and Mesopotamia. By 359 AD, with the other threats neutralised and the Kushan empire destroyed, Sassanid Persia, now ruled by Shapur II, turned its attention towards regaining their lost territories. Sassanid campaigns in Roman Mesopotamia prompted a punitive strike by the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate against the Persian Kingdom.

Advancing from Antioch with his army in two divisions (the second division under General Procopius was to play little part in the subsequent battles), Julian followed the line of the Euphrates toward the Sassanid capital at Ctesiphon. Shapur refused to give battle and took shelter within the walls of his capital. Lacking the logistics to undertake a seige, Julian decided to retire along the line of the Tigris River, hoping to draw out Shapur for a decisive fight. The Sassanids resorted to a policy of skorched earth and harrassment which served to demoralize the Romans until finally, on June 22, 363 AD, the Sassanids under the command of Merena, the Persian Master of Horse and two of Shapur's sons deployed for battle near Maranga.

The Sassanid army lined up with cataphracts (Kn) in the centre and clibanarii (Cv) armed with both lance and bow on the wings. The elephants were placed to the rear along with the bowmen (Ps) and levies (Sp). Julian formed his army in a crescent formation with the wings pointed toward the Sassanians, and advanced rapidly to avoid a prolonged missile contest. After hard, drawn-out fighting, the Romans pushed back the Sassanians. Having suffered heavy casualties, the Sassanians retired in some disorder, covered by the bows of their cavalry. The Romans reputedly suffered only light losses.

Four days later, Emperor Julian was killed during an attack on his rearguard, which he rushed to rally without stopping to put on his body armor. His troops elected the general Jovian as the new Emperor, who in order to extract his army negotiated a generous settlement with the Persians, granting them northern Mesopotamia (including the city of Nisibis)

Simulating Maranga in DBA

Order of Battle:

  • Early Sassanid (#73a) -- 2x Kn, 4x Cv, 2x Lh, 1x El, 2x Sp (-1),1x Ps

  • Late Roman (East) (#77b) -- 2x Kn, 2x Cv, 2x Lh, 2x Bd, 4x Ax

Terrain and Deployment

Normal DBA.

Special Rules

The Sassanid levy Spear fight at -1 in close combat due to their extreme unwillingness to be present.

Victory Conditions:

Normal DBA.

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Last Update: April 17, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.