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Battle of Raphia (217 BC)

By Kevan Barwise

The Battle of Raphia, in 217 BC, was a part of the ongoing series of 'Syrian Wars' between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. Antiochus III, the current Seleucid king, had been actively and aggressively reducing Ptolemaic holdings in Syria from 220BC. Egypt was in crisis, the Ptolemy army was very weak, and Ptolemy IV had few troops. Sosibus, his talented minister saved Egypt by enrolling and training an army of natives. As Antiochus III advanced south with a large army consisting of 6,000 cavalry, 102 Indian elephants, and 62,000 infantry. Ptolemy IV was able to meet him with 5,000 cavalry, 73 African elephants, and 70,000 infantry at Raphia on the plains near Gaza.

Both parties deployed their armies with the phalanx forming the center and cavalry on both wings providing protection. On the flanks, both sides placed elephants to screen and break the formation of the charging enemy cavalry. The elephants in turn where supported by archers and peltasts.

Battle opened with Antiochus' 60 elephants on his right charging Ptolemy's 40 on the left. Ptolemy's smaller African elephants gave way, disturbing his left wing. Once the elephants were dealt with, Antiochus rode around Ptolemy's left wing and began attacking it from the flank, putting it to rout. Antiochus III then pursued the fleeing forces off the field of battle.

However, Ptolemy had not lost the battle yet. Although his left wing had been swept away, he decided to attack with his right wing. Ptolemy sent his cavalry forward to lure away the opposing Indian elephants. Once the opposing elephants were out-maneuvered, the remaining Ptolemaic elephants together with the Ptolemaic right wing moved forward and successfully pushed back Antiochus' left.

The battle now reached its climax with each right wing having defeated the opposing left wing and pursued it off the field, leaving the phalanxes alone to decide the issue.

As his left wing was routing, Ptolemy extricated himself from the fleeing wing, and rode to the center, which had not yet engaged. Ptolemy then led his infantry forward, who being inspired by the presence of their king, managed to break Antiochus' center. Antiochus III returned from his pursuit just in time to join the rout of his main army.

Despite the victory, Raphia marks the decline in influence of the Ptolemies, as it was the start of a nationalistic awakening in Egypt. A growing aversion against the Greek-Macedonian domination degraded the kingdom of the Ptolemies to a political power of little importance. Several years later Antiochus III managed to defeat Egypt at the Battle of Paneas (198 BC) and Palestine and Syria henceforth were part of the Seleucid kingdom.

The Armies

Late Seleucid (DBA #41b) 1x3Kn, 2x4Kn, 1x2LH, 4x4Pk, 1x4Aux, 1xEl, 1x3Aux, 1x2Ps.

Late Ptolemaic (DBA #42b) 1x3Kn, 1x2LH, 6x4Pk, 1x4Aux, 1xEl, 1x3Wb, 1x2Ps.

Deployment

Normal DBA deployment.

The Battle Map (ASCII)

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===========Ptolemy Baseline======================

SCALE: The space between each dot/letter is one inch.

TERRAIN KEY:
.=Good Going (Good Going)
R=Road

Terrain Notes

The battlefield is set on the plains near Gaza and is as flat as it gets. This is a real showpiece for the phalanx with no terrain to confuse the issue.

Special Rules

Polybius, in his description of the Battle of Raphia mentions that the Egyptian elephant was smaller than the Indian elephant. This has lead to a storm of controversy in historical circles, as the reverse is in fact true. In recent years, it has been shown that there is a species of elephants known as the forest elephant that was common in North Africa of Polybius' day but is now extinct. As Ptolemy was denied access to Indian elephants greater use was made of the local smaller African elephant.

During his account of the battle, Polybius gives a livid description of elephants fighting each other. They met head on with tusks interlocked. Each pushed with all its weight, trying to compel the other to give ground. Finally the stronger would force the weaker oneís trunk to one side and then gore him in the exposed flank.

To represent weaker African elephants the Ptolemaic elephant receives a +1 modifier in combat.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.


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Last Update: July 3, 1999

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