Armenian Army Before Christ 1

source: Rome- Total War website

Far in the east, beyond the Taurus mountains, an old and proud people still lives out in the great cataclysm of political changes.

The Armenian Kingdom was in 612 BC controlled by Medes and later by Persia. During the conquest battles against Alexander the Great, the Armenian heavy cavalry, known for its valor, fought and died front-line. After Darius fled and the whole Persian empire had was placed under Macedonian control, Armenia was maintained in the Alexander Empire, but found her independence after his death, surviving between the Pontic Kingdom, the Seleucid Empire and the Parthians. In 300 BC, Armenia was under tutelary presence of the Seleucids, with a semi-autonomy provided by a special satrapal regime of favor. Armenia was ruled by her own kings of ancient Urartian descent, but was theoretically under Seleucid suzerainty.

In 190 BC, the Armenian territories were reunified and under the new Artashesian dynasty, a new capital, Artashat, was built – as the Romans wrote it – by the refugee Hannibal Barca himself. Soon, the reign of Tigranes II began in 95bc, alongside another great king, Mithridates of Pontus. Under his reign, the Armenian Kingdom expanded to include new territories, from the Caspian to Egypt and Palestine. The Armenian army is an interesting one. It is a good mix of the classic eastern horse-archers and a foot infantry army. The introduction of the phalanx was recent, from the pontic and seleucid influence, but the whole infantry was more a bunch of hand-to-hand combat infantry and mixt archers heritated from the persian warfare. This was a good mix, well used against the Roman legions.

NIZAM GUND (Levy spearmen) : Unlike the ancient “true” sparabara which were better trained and efficient, the Nizam Gund were eastern spearmen of the most basic type. As “modern sparabara”, they were ony “spara-bearers”, their common equipment was a rectangular wicker shield and a spear. They wore a tunic, often brightly colored, but no armour at all, even a linen soft cap. These were levies, poor commoners, thrown to the battle with little training and simple orders. They were not intended to make complicated tactical moves, but only offer a large-scale spear “buffer”. Their number was intimidating enough for every cavalry unit. Their short spears were also easy to manage, but more useful against infantry than cavalry. They were the suicide group and as such had very low morale. But their main advantage was in their large number, quick recruitment and cheap price of equipment and training. To protect archers, they were always useful.

NIZAGAMARTIK (Spearmen) : Nizagamartik were armenian spearmen from the plains, citizens and peasants, not levies, as they were well-trained to fight in the battlefront and act as soldiers. They were however poorely equipped, with only a large wicker shield as protection, which could be compared to the Persian spara. Some were armed with an additionnal dagger. They had longer spears than militia and their main duty was to stop cavalry charges. Recruited amongst the frontiersmen, they were cunning people, usually fightining for their lives against the fierce mountaineers and other raiding nomads. As ancient Urartian spearmen, and in the sparabara tradition, they were trained to hold the line and operate some simple tactic moves. This was a more valuable unit than the sparabara, and the simple militias. Their great number was a match for every enemy cavalry. They were physically and mentally stronger and could sustain an assaut with any foot infantry, to protect themselves and hold the line with their large shield under an heavy rain of arrows, where others would have fled.

SAGARAMARTIK (light assaut infantry) : The armenian lands are made from fertile valleys and cold and savage mountains. There, in their rocky nests, some citadels and fortified villages were the home of local warrior lords, who organized raid parties against the valley peoples. The Arsacid, which inherited the ancient land of their ancestors, the Urartian empire, had to deal for centuries against these fierce mountaineers. Finally, they found it more useful to draw these rude men into the army with generous wages. More than mercenaries, these former brigands were integrated in the armenian army as auxiliaries, playing roughly the same attack duty as the Persian takabara. They were armed by the heavy war-axes of the Scythians, the sagaris, and had a wicker shield to protect against arrows, though they would be ineffective against sword or spear blows. They would have been posted to the front of the phalanx` used to break and tire the enemy, or at the wings` to be thrown at the weakest point of the enemy defenses and break his line, allowing the better armed and protected sooseramartik to exploit the breach.

KENTRONAKAN (Heavy spearmen): Although the nizagamartik formed the bulk force of the infantry in a battle line, they were backed themselves by elite spearmen, the Kentronakan. They were veterans, chosen and trained to form a phalanx-like formation, although it was not really a true phalanx in a Macedonian sense, but rather in the Persian sense, as they still used their cumbersome spara shields. They were mostly used to hold the line, as they had a longer spear, reinforced shield (which need to be strapped on the forearm) and the spear needing both arms to prove useful. They were slow, but very sturdy and fearless, with high morale and training. They were very well equipped with a large rectangular shaped, iron faced shields, and carried a long sword of high quality as secondary weapon. If needed, they could act as an elite infantry unit, but their large shield was meant for defence first and foremost. They could act as an anchor in the middle of levies and light spearmen. These were one of the best on-foot troops the Armenians could offer.

AZAD SPARABARA (Royal sparabara) : This Elite infantry was an early one, derived from the ancient Persian royal sparabara, and just as well-equipped with a bronze plumed helmet, quilted or scaled armor, and the famous counterweight “apple-spear” or “melophoroi”. They were extremely well trained and protected behind their large shield. It was a royal unit maintained by the local Armenian king, acting as a satrap for the Persian army. In 300 BC they were still a part of the Armenian army, but quickly faded in favor to newly trained hellenized spearmen fighting in phalanx. This old-fashioned unit fought with their spear over their high spara, and trained to advance slowly in thight formation, just as the old sumerian phalanx. They were also equipped with daggers and small sagaris axes for close-combat, when their cohesion was broken.

SOOSERAMARTIK (heavy swordsmen) The Armenian army was influenced by the nearby Hellenistic superpowers, even though its core was very Persian based. The professional infantry was usually divided between the defensive spearmen, archers behind, and attack troops. In the beginning, there were the cheaper, prolific mountaineer axemen but were found to be too undisciplined and difficult to control. Later, a new heavy greek-style skirmisher was intoduced and a new medium infantry which were mainly swordsmen. The very first sooseramartik were in fact local sword bearers. It was a veteran infantry, chosen from the regular spearmen units with physically stronger and skilled men, raised by their officers as a promotion. They were given good quality armor, a long sword of high standard, and two heavy javelins to back their assault. This infantry was also used by Pontus, and became more romanized in the time of Tigranes II, using the chainmail and gladius.

ARMENIAN PHALANX : This late heavy infantry was modelled after the Hellenistic phalanx. This was no doubt a very sturdy infantry, made of chosen veterans from the regular heavy spear units -like the famous kentrokanan. They were heavily armoured, combining scale and mail armor, and trained to make a Macedonian-style phalanx.


4 thoughts on “Armenian Army Before Christ 1”

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