Warfare- Ancient Eastern Empires

Hello everyone, I’m back again with my historical warfare posts featuring my sketches of different of armies from history. This time, I’d go in detail with the warfare of the Eastern kingdoms and empires from ancient times, parallel to times of Greece and Rome. Surprisingly the eastern empires of the world, located in Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and the Middle-east had battle strategies, weapons, and armor a lot different from those in the west. The empires and kingdoms that will be covered would be the Persians, Parthians, Armenians, and Sassanids, each of them were very different from the common places in the west.

Persian Empire battle standard
Persian Empire battle standard
symbol of Persian empire
Symbol of Persian empire
full extent of the Achaemenid Persian empire
Full extent of the Achaemenid Persian empire

The first part of this post would focus mainly on the 1st Persian Empire, also known a the Achaemenid Empire, or simply the Persian Empire. The Achaemenids were the first Persians to build an empire stretching across the Middle-east in a short matter of time. The empire began under Cyrus II the Great, the first king of Persia, and in his reign (559-530BC) he conquered the lands outside of Persia (Iran) extending to Asia Minor and Armenia. Cyrus the Great simply began being ruler of the small Persian kingdom in Iran and conquered regions beyond it such as Medea, Judea, Phoenicia, Babylon, and Lydia in Asia Minor, the Persian empire’s capital was Ecbetana. He was most famous for conquering Babylon but failed to conquer the Bactrian and Scythian tribes. His successors were Cambyses II, Darius I, and Xerxes I, in their reigns they expanded the empire conquering Egypt, Thrace, and parts of India. When building their empire, they defeated powerful rulers including extremely wealthy Lydian king Croesus and the pharaoh of Egypt. At the beginning of the 5th century BC, the Persians fought a series of wars with the Greeks, the Greek-Persian wars, here the Persians managed to invade Greece for a while but were driven away by the armies of the Greek city states combined. The Achaemenid Persians were overall a powerful empire having an army large in size, but not strong in battle, and a large powerful fleet, and had lots of wealth. The Persians are famous for inventing the messaging system and road systems building highways around the empire extending across the deserts, plains, mountains, rivers, and seas. For the remaining years after defeat in the war with the Greeks, the Persians continued to rule their great empire. The Achaemenid Persian Empire came to their end when their last king, Darius III was defeated by Macedonian king Alexander the Great, from then the Persians and all their lands including Egypt were ruled by the Macedonian Greeks; after Alexander’s death, the succeeding Persian empire would be the Seleucid Empire, though they were more Greek than eastern.

Persian warriors carved on walls
Persian warriors carved on walls
Persian army at battle
Persian army at battle
Persian Immortals in phalanx formation
Persian Immortals in phalanx formation
my sketch of Persian warriors
My sketch of Persian warriors

The Persian army was made up of a variety of units of all sorts of skills. The Achaemenid Persian army was many in number but majority were weak and untrained for battle. Only a few of them, called the Immortals, the elite army units and the protectors of the king. The rest of their army were untrained citizens from all over the empire simply asked to fight for Persia as slaves and not soldiers. In battle, the Persians relied mostly on missile weapons than melee weapons, these missile weapons they used included bows and arrows or javelins. The citizen army were mostly peltasts or hillmen weakly trained and only skilled with using missile weapons and usually used one of each and holding a dagger on their side. The only elite force highly trained for battle were the Immortals and the Cataphracts who handled a set of weapons such as a bow, a sword or axe, javelins, and a shield. The Immortals were more of an infantry force, at battle using the phalanx formation and using both melee and missile combat. The Cataphracts were more of cavalry men skilled in archery and lancing when on horse. The Persian warriors however did not wear much of armor, the Immortals and the Cataphracts though wore only padded armor or scales rather than full armor as the Greeks did. The Persian cavalry was usually made up of horses, camels, charriots, and sometimes war elephants. The Persian army did not take the use of armor seriously but instead carried more weapons as wearing armor would be too heavy when marching in desert heat. The elite warriors usually wore a sheet of padded armor around the body but not covering the arms, under they wore tunics and on their head they had headscarves and under they had pants and boots. Most of their soldiers were not armored and simply wore tunics and headscarves, or phrygian caps. For shields, the Persians either used large square shields for phalanx when using spears, or round shields with a curve when firing javelins, their shields were usually made of wood, some were metal; for their weapons they used different types of curved swords called kopis, they also used javelins, bows and arrows with the incendiary effect to burn down enemy armies. In my sketch above, it shows 2 Persian elite warriors, on the left a cataphract, on the right an immortal; also shown here are Persian weapons a bow, a set of arrows with a Persian quiver which had a design with a curve to hold both the arrows and the bow, also here is a Persian curved sword and dagger. Most of all, they used missle weapons as they were more of skirmishers in battle.

the Parthian Empire symbol
Parthian Empire symbol
map of Parthian Empire
Map of the Parthian Empire

The first empire, the Achaemenids fell under the Greeks for a matter of time dissolving to the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid Empire (mentioned in the previous page) was more of Greek than eastern but had few parts of eastern culture. The Seleucid Empire stretched across the Middle-east from Mediterranean Syria and Turkey to eastern Iran, Parthia was one of the states of the Seleucid Empire. In the 2nd century BC, the Parthians formed their own faction and revolted against the Seleucids, later capturing their regions around Persia, the new empire was the Parthian or Arsacid Empire. A famous Parthian ruler was Mithridates I, he was responsible for building the empire and expanding it weakening the Seleucids after battles. The Seleucid Empire then fell to the Romans after battles, so did the Ptolemaic Egyptian empire, but the Parthians remained with most of the land in the east preventing the Romans to go through. After defeating the Seleucids, the Romans then tried to make their way to Parthia, though they lost at the Battle of Carrhae where Roman leader Crassus was defeated. Afterwards, for the next 2 centuries Rome and Parthia were always at war with each other, and there was no successful result, Rome never invaded them nor did they invade Rome, and at times they made peace. However, the neighboring kingdom to Parthia, Armenia was a weaker kingdom but allied with Parthia, however both Romans and Parthians fought for it. One of the significant fights between them was during the reign of Roman emperor Nero, which involved Roman general Corbulo to deal with the issue. At the end, Corbulo was able to capture Armenia from Parthia and claim it for Rome while Parthia stayed alone, but later on went through more conflicts with the Romans. Armenia then fell under Roman control for the longest time while Parthia was sometimes captured by Rome, however the Romans did not fully invade Parthia but took some of their territory. The Romans invaded until the Euphrates area while Parthia continued to keep their lands beyond it including Babylon and Persia; Parthia’s capital was still Ecbetana though the Seleucid’s earlier used Antioch as their capital, though the actual capital of Parthia was Ctesiphon in Iraq. The Parthian empire came to its close after their last war with Rome involving the last Parthian king Artabanus V and the Roman army, after the war, the Romans and the Parthians finally made a full peace after all. After the king’s death, the dynasty ended falling to the Sassanians, a new dynasty, they were to be the enemies of the Byzantines, the successor to Rome in the east.

Parthian cavalry at battle
Parthian cavalry at battle
Parthian war elephants
Parthian war elephants
A Parthian camel cataphract
A Parthian camel cataphract
my sketch of Parthian cataphract cavalry
My sketch of Parthian cataphract cavalry
other sketch of Parthian cavalryman
Other sketch of Parthian cavalryman

When it came to battle, the Parthian empire had a more organized and strategized army compared to the Persians. The Parthian army was mostly made up of cavalrymen, also called cataphracts,which were the most important part of their army. Their cavalry was made up of simple horsemen, then cataphracts which were more armored horsemen, also camel cavalry, war elephants, chariots, and an infantry. The infantry men were not as strong and carried limited choices of weapons, which were mostly missile weapons for skirmishing. Their infantry were mostly hillmen or skirmishers, though their cavalry was more advanced having different ways in battle from thrusting with spears, slashing with swords, throwing javelins, and shooting arrows while riding on horse. The Parthians used camels too as a way to be faster in riding, the soldiers on camels were mostly archers but also spearmen. The difference between the Parthian army compare to the earlier Persians was that they were more organized and had full armor, especially the horsemen, even horses and camels had armor. The Parthians used nearly the same weapons as the Persians though cavalrymen used a bow, sword, shield, and spear combined, this was much more effective and useful in battle. The Parthians too used large armored war elephants, which were also useful in creating bigger destruction on the enemy by ramming and archers shooting arrows from above. For armor, the Parthians used more of it, having a full set of body armor made of soft pads or scales, together with chain mail and a full helmet covering the face, though lined with scarves, and a cape. The infantry used simpler armor or just wore tunics, their military outfits had to be more fit for dessert combat. With their strong cavalry including archers and elephants, the Romans could definitely not beat them.


Sassanid empire symbol
Sassanid empire symbol
full extent of Sassanid empire
Full extent of Sassanid empire

After the Achaemenids, Seleucids, and Parthians, the concluding dynasty of the Persian Empire was the Sassanids or Sassanians. After the Arsacid Parthian dynasty faded away in the 3rd century AD, the Sassanid dynasty took its place and changed the course of the empire, the new dynasty and empire began with Ardashir I, first Sassanian ruler. For the Sassanids, Ctesiphon remained as their capital, and they remained with the same Persian religion since the early days before the Persian empires began, Zoroastrianism. However, the Eastern Roman Empire turned to Christianity, and some of the Christians there settled in the Sassanid Empire following the Nestorian branch of Eastern Christianity, these Christians were a lot more different and traveled far to the east, probably even reaching China.The Sassanids were somewhat more different from the Parthians as they expanded their lands more to the north retaking Armenia and the east of Asia Minor, even capturing Syria and Egypt from the Eastern Romans. One of the most significant wars between the Romans and the Sassanids happened in the 4th century AD, when the eastern empire was still new, in fact in these wars, eastern emperor Julian was killed in battle with the Sassanids. One thing the Sassanids had was an army mostly made of cavalry just as the Persians did, they had the same elite cavalry unit called cataphracts, also had horse and camel archers, war elephants and chariots. The Sassanids had quite a lot of land around the deserts and traveling may have been easy in fact the Sassanids knew ways of getting to China by land; their empire spanned across the Middle-east going from Asia Minor and Armenia, the Caucasus mountains to the north, to the Arabian peninsula in the south, and as far as the Indian border in the Indus to the east. The Sassanid Empire came to an end when falling to the Arab conquests of the Muslims. Afterwards, the Sassanid Empire died and the Persian empires fully ended making the Islamic Empire be dominant in ruling the east and southern parts of the world. After that the world changed as the Persian world came to an end, though they were one of the most influential eastern empires.

Sassanid cavalry man
Sassanid cavalryman
Armenian hillmen
Armenian hillmen
my sketch, Sassanid cataphract (left) and Armenian hillman (right)
My sketch, Sassanid cataphract (left) and Armenian hillman (right)

Shown above is my sketch of a Sassanid cataphract warrior (left) and an Armenian hillman (right). The Sassanid army was usually made up of cavalry, mostly archers on horses or camels. These cavalry warriors had a round helmet with chain mail flowing down from their head to their body, a set of scarves on their head and carried together a bow, a spear, a sword, and a shield. On the left sketch shows a Sassanid cataphract infantry warrior, fully armored (drawing based on Easterling warrior from LOTR trilogy), this time for a difference it has a large square shield for infantry, holds a large curved scimitar sword, and at the back, a bow and a quiver with arrows. This warrior has padded armor in a hexagonal patter, an unusual helemet, and headscarves. The Sassanid cavalry army all looked the same, same padded armor, and chain-mail, and same set of weapons except only a small round shield for cavalry, though the Sassanid army was highly organized. On the right is an Armenia hillman, the Armenians though did not have a strong army with cataphracts or elephants, instead lightly armored hillmen or skirmishers without armor but tunics and a phrygian cap, holding a set of javelins, a wooden shield, and an axe, sword, or dagger for melee weapon, they also used slings though some hillmen used spears. These hillmen were not much organized but more of skilled skirmishers coming from the mountains of Armenia using mountain warfare. The Armenian skirmishers look a little similar to that of Scythian warriors, except not on horses.

To conclude the topic on Eastern warfare, to tell the difference, the eastern armies relied more on cavalry, archery, and skirmishing, though were very intricate in warfare. The eastern armies compared to the west came in more colors, having artistic designs, and different smart battle strategies of skirmishing or shock cavalry charge, they also had better styles of armor being more comfortable to travel through deserts and mountains. Their skills also matched the areas they were from, and in battle they came in large numbers, most of them however were unarmored but those who were well-trained and fully armored had unmatched skill in battle. Of course the eastern world had more gold and riches making the empires together with their army powerful as well. So this is it… hope you had learned, see you soon for more!

Published by The Byzantium Blogger

Powee Celdran, currently majors in Entrepreneurial Management, a Byzantine scholar and enthusiast, historical military sketch and bathroom mural artist, aspiring historical art restorer, Lego filmmaker creating Byzantine era films and videos, and a possible Renaissance man living in modern times but Byzantine at heart. Currently manages the Instagram account byzantine_time_traveller posting Byzantine history related content.

One thought on “Warfare- Ancient Eastern Empires

  1. Translat and read persian

    با سلام من یک ایرانی ام و پژوهش گر تاریخ اول خوانندگان درباره ارتش هخامنشی و نحوه آموزش فرزندان ایرانی،آموزش و پرورش،یادگیری علم،و فرهنگ آن زمان باید تحقیقاتی زیادی غیر از منابع غربی انجام دهند ارتش پیاده نظام هخامنشی به دو دسته تشکیل میشده سبک اسلحه و سنگین اسلحه …افرادی که وارد ارتش میشدند اول بایدحداقل آموزش کامل دیده باشند و نظر بدنی قوی غیر از این وارد ارتش نمی شدند…پس وارد شدن باید بین حداقل بین ۲۰ تا ۳۰ سال خدمت میکردند و باز با این حال به اندازه کافی ورزیده نبودند که بتوانند ارتش سنگین اسلحه یونانی را شکست بدهند؟ شما فقط منبعتان چندین سایت است که هر کس هرچه دلش بخواهد مینویسد…مردم دانا میدانند که باید تحقیق کنند و لطفا انقدر به من و کشورم توهین نکنید..با تشکر محمد از ایران

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