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Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Cimmerian Shot

The Parthian Cimmerian Shot

Whilst I was researching about king Sargon II of Assyria (reigned 722 - 705 BC) and his campaign against the Cimmerian horde in Asia Minor I came across this image, from his palace of Dur-Sharrukin, of Cimmerian horse archers firing back at the pursuing Assyrian cavalry.
What is the big deal about this image? Well, it is established wisdom that this horse-archery technique originated with the Parthians and was used to the full by a Parthian army of 10,000 strong against 43,000 strong Roman army led by the greedy Marcus Licinius Crassus near the town of Carrhae, northern Syria, in 53 BC. Not only did the battle result in 20,000 Roman dead and 10,000 Roman captured (some sent to central Asia) but also the horse archer technique of firing back upon pursuing foes to become a nightmare in the unconcious mind of future Roman armies deployed to the Parthian frontier.

In 709 BC king Mita (Midas) of Phrygia gave his kingdom over to king Sargon II of Assyria for protection against the Cimmerian horde that had stormed into Asia Minor from across the Caucasus.
King Sargon II died in battle against the Cimmerians in 705 BC.

Clearly this horse-archery technique predates the Parthians. Who the Cimmerians were is still a mystery, yet they were foes of the Scythians, who chased them across the Caucasus.

The Parthians Arsacid dynasty is supposed to have risen from the Dahae tribe that lived to the east of the Caspian sea, no explanation is given for what distinguished them from the neighbouring Scythian tribes to their south in Parthia. The Dahae then invaded or intervened in Parthia in 238 BC, killing its king, Andragoras and taking over the region. From then on they would be known only as Parthians, and their dynasty, the Arsacid.

Whether all the Cimmerians went west into Asia Minor seems unlikely, and some may have been driven eastwards, still pursued by their Scythian foes, and the Dahae may descend from these Cimmerians.

In conclusion we can not longer honestly credit Parthia with this horse-archery technique, and must now give it to its inventors, the Cimmerians ;)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Army Reform Of Alexius Comnenus & The Origin Of The Ottoman "Mehter Marsi"


Back in May 2010 I was reading the Alexiad of Anna Comnena, I came across an episode in her father's career, the army reform and the later Ottoman army seemed to reflect his new tactics...


From 1110-16 AD the Seljuk Sultan of Rum, Shahanshah, led a series of campaigns against the empire.

To deal with the fighting style of the Turks and consolidate the land regained from them, Alexius retrained the army.
He developed a new battle formation, so that the army would always face the oncoming Turkish horse-archers at an angle, forcing them to fire at the shield side of the army, reducing their effect.

By 1116 Alexius had won the war, Shahanshah had made a treaty with Alexius to remove the Seljuks from Anatolia but he was captured by his brother Masud and later murdered at the town of Konya.

Alexius had tried to intervene but it was too late, and so returned to his base at the fort of Philomelion, rescueing prisoners and taking the local Christians back with him.

Anna wrote of a multitude being evacuated and brought with the army back to the north-west.
She wrote of births and deaths occuring as this throng marched on.

This army, Anna wrote, was kept in step by "the tunes of flutes and when they were on the move it seemed as if they were not moving and when they were not on the move it seemed as if they were moving."
As well as this, she describes how "from a distance it looked like a city with bastions on the move and when it changed direction this whole body moved as one, like a huge beast."
My understanding of the marching formation of the army Alexius led on campaign:

G= Left Vangaurd, Constantine Gabras, governor of Philadelphia.
M= Right Vanguard, Monastris
X= Under Alexius direct command, within are the evacuees and freed prisoners from the Anatolikon province.
T= Left Rearguard, Tzipoureles
A= Right Rearguard, Ampelas
 

Clearly new style of marching an army is mirrored later by the Ottomans, their famous 'Mehter Marsi'.


However, the following will be of interest.
Reading "The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 1, "The extent and military force of the Roman empire, in the age of the Antonines, Exercise ",  paragraph 38...

" The soldiers were diligently instructed to march, ... and to move to the sound of flutes, in the Pyrrhic or martial dance. "

So, it does seem unlikely that what Alexius did with the army was new. Rather, he revived an ancient martial tradition of the Greeks and Romans.