Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

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- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Battle of Satala - Persia Invades

Persian Cavalry  (radpour.com)

Satala - Battle of the Iberian War

The Iberian War was fought from 526 to 532 between the Eastern Roman Empire and Sassanid Persian Empire over the eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia.

Tensions between the two powers were further heightened by the defection of the Iberian king Gourgen to the Romans. According to the historian Procopius, Kavadh I tried to force the Christian Iberians to become Zoroastrians, who in 524/525 under the leadership of Gourgen rose in revolt against Persia, following the example of the neighboring Christian kingdom of Lazica. Gourgen received pledges by Justin I that he would defend Iberia; the Romans indeed recruited Huns from the north of the Caucasus to assist the Iberians.

Violence escalated at various points where the power of the two empires met: in 525 a Roman fleet transported an Aksumite army to conquer Himyarite Yemen and in 525/526, Persia's Arab allies, the Lakhmids, raided Roman territories on the edge of the desert. By 526–527, overt fighting between the two empires had broken out in the Transcaucasus region and upper Mesopotamia, and the Persians continued to exert pressure on the Romans to obtain funds from them. Following the emperor Justin I's death in 527, Justinian I succeeded to the imperial throne. 

The early years of war favored the Persians: by 527 the Iberian revolt had been crushed, a Roman offensive against Nisibis and Thebetha in that year was unsuccessful, and forces attempting to fortify Thannuris and Melabasa were prevented from doing so by Persian attacks.

The Roman - Persian Frontier
Some 30,000 Persian troops invaded Byzantium's Armenian 
provinces resulting is the Battle of Satala.

In spring 530, the Persian attack in Mesopotamia met with defeat at the Battle of Dara. A Roman army of 25,000 men under the great Roman General Belisarius marched out to meet 40,000 Persians including large units of the Immortals. Belisarius crushed the Persians killing 8,000.

At the same time as Dara, the Persians had gained ground in the Caucasus, having subdued Iberia and invaded Lazica. The Persian shah, Kavadh I decided to take advantage of this and sent an army into Byzantium's Armenian provinces. For this task, he chose the general Mihr-Mihroe (Mermeroes).
Mihr-Mihroe began assembling his forces near the Byzantine border fortress of Theodosiopolis (Erzurum). According to Procopius, his army composed mostly of levies from Persian-ruled Armenia and Sunitae from the northern Caucasus, as well as 3,000 Sabirs
The Byzantine commanders were Sittas, who had just been promoted from magister militum per Armeniam to magister militum praesentalis, and his successor in the former post, Dorotheus

Sittas was the husband of Comito, the elder sister of the Empress Theodora, and possible father of the later empress Sophia.  He enters history in the reign of Emperor Justin I as a doryphoros ("bodyguard") in the guard of Justinian, then magister militum per Orientem.

As soon as news of the ongoing Persian preparations reached them, they sent two of their guards to spy on them. One was captured, but the other returned with information that allowed the Byzantines to launch a surprise attack the Persian camp. The Persian army scattered with some loss, and after looting their camp, the Byzantines returned to their base.

Satala Fortress East Gate
Yes, I said the same thing, "That's a gate? How do they know?"
I guess when the Persians destroy a fortress they really destroy a fortress.  

From Livius.org

The Fortress of Satala

(From Livius)  When the emperor Vespasian added Commagene to the Roman empire (72 CE), the upper Euphrates became a frontier zone; across the river were the Parthian Empire and the buffer state Armenia. The main road along the Roman border (limes) was from Trapezus on the shores of the Black Sea to Alexandria near IssusSeleucia, and Antioch near the Mediterranean in the south. The legionary bases along this highway were Satala (for the recently founded Sixteenth legion Flavia Firma), Melitene (XII Fulminata), Samosata (VI Ferrata), and Zeugma (IIII Scythica). 

Satala was chosen because it commanded not only the Euphrates, but also the road from central Anatolia to Armenia (essentially the modern E88/E80).

We would like to know more about the original settlement, but it will be hard to reconstruct it, because the site was destroyed in the mid-third century by troops of the Persian Sasanians (who had replaced the Parthians after 224), and was rebuilt several times. What can be seen today, belongs to the sixth-century reconstruction by the emperor Justinian (527-565). The circuit of the walls is too small to offer accommodation to a first- or second-century legion. The original military settlement is still lost.

Satala, Northern "Wall"

Satala, East "Wall"

Hardly anything is known about Satala's civil settlement, although it is certain that in the fourth century, there was a Christian community.
The site was fortified again in 529 by the Emperor Justinian. His historian Procopius writes:
The city of Satala had been in a precarious state in ancient times. For it is situated not far from the land of the enemy and it also lies in a low-lying plain and is dominated by many hills which tower around it, and for this reason it stood in need of circuit-walls which would defy attack. Nevertheless, even though its surroundings were of such a nature as this, its defenses were in a perilous condition, having been carelessly constructed with bad workmanship in the beginning, and with the long passage of time the masonry had everywhere collapsed. But the Emperor tore all this down and built there a new circuit wall, so high that it seemed to overtop the hills around it, and of a thickness sufficient to ensure the safety of its towering mass. And he set up admirable outworks on all sides and so struck terror into the hearts of the enemy.
This fortress survived for almost a century, but was eventually captured and destroyed in 607/608 by the Persian Sasanian king Khusrau II the Victorious (590-628).
Persian King Kavadh I

Battle of Satala

Once the Persian commander Mihr-Mihroe had finished assembling his army of 30,000 men in Armenia he invaded Byzantine territory. 

The Persians bypassed the Roman fortress of Theodosiopolis on the border and headed for Satala. While not much made of this action it is a major importance to this campaign.

In reading between the lines, the fortress was bypassed because it was far too powerful to successfully attack and capture in a reasonable amount of time.  Also, there is no way the Persians would allow a large Roman garrison to operate in their rear.  So a considerable number of Persian troops would have been left behind to hold the Romans inside the fortress.

It was a 126 mile march from Theodosiopolis to Satala through some very stark countryside.  Securing the Persian lines of communication would have involved detaching even more units from the main invading force.

After a long march the Persians set up their camp some distance from the city walls. How many Persians were there we do not know.  The historian Procopius (who was not there) says the Romans had 15,000 men and were outnumbered about two to one. That would mean the Persians did not detach any troops.  That would be wrong.

But the Romans did show up with a very powerful force that might have been in that range.  The Romans feared to take on the for more numerous Persians in open combat. Most the the Romans stayed with Dorotheus inside the city walls.  Sittas took 1,000 cavalry into the hills overlooking the fortress.
On the next day, the Persians advanced and began to surround the city, preparing for a siege. 

At this point, Sittas and his 1,000 man cavalry detachment charged down from the high ground of the hills into the rear of the Persians. The charge created a huge cloud of dust that made it hard to estimate the Roman numbers. The Persians thought they were facing the main Roman army. They quickly gathered their forces and turned to meet them.

With the Persians turned to face Sittas, the Romans in the city under Dorotheus led his own men to attack what was now the "new" rear of the Persian army. 

Despite their bad tactical position, facing attack from both front and rear, the Persian army resisted effectively, due to its greater numbers. At one point, however, a Byzantine commander, Florentius the Thracian, charged his unit into the Persian center and managed to capture Mihr-Mihroe's battle standard. Although he was killed soon after, the loss of the flag caused fear among the Persian ranks. Their army began to retreat to their camp, abandoning the battlefield.

The large Persian force may have retreated to their camp, but the Romans had no interest in following up their victory with additional attacks. That implies that the Persians were still well organized and to be feared. On the other hand, the Persians had been seriously mauled and no longer wanted to fight.

The next day, the Persians departed and returned to Persian Armenia, unmolested by the Byzantines, who were satisfied with their victory over a far larger force. 

This victory was a major success for Byzantium, and was followed by the defections of a number of Armenian chieftains to the Empire, as well as by the capture or surrender of a number of important fortresses, like Bolum and Pharangium. 

Negotiations between Persia and Byzantium also resumed after the battle, but they led nowhere, and in spring 531 war resumed, with the campaign that led to the Battle of Callinicum .

Possible Route of the Persians
It was a 126 mile march for the Persians from the Roman border
fortress of Theodosiopolis (modern Erzurum) to Satala (Sadak).
The Persians would have had to detach considerable numbers of
troops from the main army to secure their lines of communications
and surround the Roman garrison at 

Eastern Roman Army Re-enactors

By Procopius of Caesarea
(500 to 560AD)

Editor  -  Procopius is wonderful to read.  He gives us huge amounts of detail and first person accounts to events that were not seen by historians again for centuries. In the case of Satala, Procopius was not there.  I have reprinted his account because it does provide a certain amount of information.  But it is obvious by the lack of detail that Procopius is reporting to us events that were told to him by others.

And Cabades sent another army into the part of Armenia which is subject to the Romans. This army was composed of Persarmenians and Sunitae, whose land adjoins that of the Alani. There were also Huns with them, of the stock called Sabiri, to the number of three thousand, a most warlike race. And Mermeroes, a Persian, had been made general of the whole force. When this army was three days' march from Theodosiopolis, they established their camp and, remaining in the land of the Persarmenians, made their preparations for the invasion.

Now the general of Armenia was, as it happened, Dorotheus, a man of discretion and experienced in many wars. And Sittas held the office of general in Byzantium, and had authority over the whole army in Armenia. These two, then, upon learning that an army was being assembled in Persarmenia, straightway sent two body-guards with instructions to spy out the whole force of the enemy and report to them. And both of these men got into the barbarian camp, and after noting everything accurately, they departed. And they were travelling toward some place in that region, when they happened unexpectedly upon hostile Huns.

By them one of the two, Dagaris by name, was made captive and bound, while the other succeeded in escaping and reported everything to the generals. They then armed their whole force and made an unexpected assault upon the camp of their enemy; and the barbarians, panic-stricken by the unexpected attack, never thought of resistance, but fled as best each one could. Thereupon the Romans, after killing a large number and plundering the camp, immediately marched back.
Not long after this Mermeroes, having collected the whole army, invaded the Roman territory, and they came upon their enemy near the city of Satala. There they established themselves in camp and remained at rest in a place called Octava, which is fifty-six stades distant from the city. 
6th Century Byzantine Cavalry 

Sittas therefore led out a thousand men and concealed them behind one of the many hills which surround the plain in which the city of Satala lies. Dorotheus with the rest of the army he ordered to stay inside the fortifications, because they thought that they were by no means able to withstand the enemy on level ground, since their number was not fewer than thirty thousand, while their own forces scarcely amounted to half that number. 

On the following day the barbarians came up close to the fortifications and busily set about closing in the town. But suddenly, seeing the forces of Sittas who by now were coming down upon them from the high ground, and having no means of estimating their number, since owing to the summer season a great cloud of dust hung over them, they thought they were much more numerous than they were, and, hurriedly abandoning their plan of closing in the town, they hastened to mass their force into a small space. 

But the Romans anticipated the movement and, separating their own force into two detachments, they set upon them as they were retiring from the fortifications; and when this was seen by the whole Roman army, they took courage, and with a great rush they poured out from the fortifications and advanced against their opponents. They thus put the Persians between their own troops, and turned them to flight. 

However, since the barbarians were greatly superior to their enemy in numbers, as has been said, they still offered resistance, and the battle had become a fierce fight at close quarters. And both sides kept making advances upon their opponents and retiring quickly, for they were all cavalry. 

Thereupon Florentius, a Thracian, commanding a detachment of horse, charged into the enemy's centre, and seizing the general's standard, forced it to the ground, and started to ride back. And though he himself was overtaken and fell there, hacked to pieces, he proved to be the chief cause of the victory for the Romans. For when the barbarians no longer saw the standard, they were thrown into great confusion and terror, and retreating, got inside their camp, and remained quiet, having lost many men in the battle; and on the following day they all returned homeward with no one following them up, for it seemed to the Romans a great and very noteworthy thing that such a great multitude of barbarians in their own country had suffered those things which have just been narrated above, and that, after making an invasion into hostile territory, they should retire thus without accomplishing anything and defeated by a smaller force.

Remains of the walls and Eastern gate of Satala's late Roman fortress.
From Mavors.org

At that time the Romans also acquired certain Persian strongholds in Persarmenia, both the fortress of Bolum and the fortress called Pharangium, which is the place where the Persians mine gold, which they take to the king. It happened also that a short time before this they had reduced to subjection the Tzanic nation, who had been settled from of old in Roman territory as an autonomous people; and as to these things, the manner in which they were accomplished will be related here and now.
As one goes from the land of Armenia into Persarmenia the Taurus lies on the right, extending into Iberia and the peoples there, as has been said a little before this[19], while on the left the road which continues to descend for a great distance is overhung by exceedingly precipitous mountains, concealed forever by clouds and snow, from which the Phasis River issues and flows into the land of Colchis. 

In this place from the beginning lived barbarians, the Tzanic nation, subject to no one, called Sani in early times; they made plundering expeditions among the Romans who lived round about, maintaining a most difficult existence, and always living upon what they stole; for their land produced for them nothing good to eat. Wherefore also the Roman emperor sent them each year a fixed amount of gold, with the condition that they should never plunder the country thereabout. And the barbarians had sworn to observe this agreement with the oaths peculiar to their nation, and then, disregarding what they had sworn, they had been accustomed for a long time to make unexpected attacks and to injure not only the Armenians, but also the Romans who lived next to them as far as the sea; then, after completing their inroad in a short space of time, they would immediately betake themselves again to their homes. 

And whenever it _so_ happened that they chanced upon a Roman army, they were always defeated in the battle, but they proved to be absolutely beyond capture owing to the strength of their fastnesses. In this way Sittas had defeated them in battle before this war; and then by many manifestations of kindness in word and in deed he had been able to win them over completely. For they changed their manner of life to one of a more civilized sort, and enrolled themselves among the Roman troops, and from that time they have gone forth against the enemy with the rest of the Roman army. They also abandoned their own religion for a more righteous faith, and all of them became Christians. Such then was the history of the Tzani.
Gravestone of a Roman legionary
soldier and his wife from Satala.

Beyond the borders of this people there is a cañon whose walls are both high and exceedingly steep, extending as far as the Caucasus mountains. In it are populous towns, and grapes and other fruits grow plentifully. And this canon for about the space of a three days' journey is tributary to the Romans, but from there begins the territory of Persarmenia; and here is the gold-mine which, with the permission of Cabades, was worked by one of the natives, Symeon by name. 

When this Symeon saw that both nations were actively engaged in the war, he decided to deprive Cabades of the revenue. Therefore he gave over both himself and Pharangium to the Romans, but refused to deliver over to either one the gold of the mine. And as for the Romans, they did nothing, thinking it sufficient for them that the enemy had lost the income from there, and the Persians were not able against the will of the Romans to force the inhabitants of the place to terms, because they were baffled by the difficult country.
At about the same time Narses and Aratius who at the beginning of this war, as I have stated above,[20] had an encounter with Sittas and Belisarius in the land of the Persarmenians, came together with their mother as deserters to the Romans; and the emperor's steward, Narses, received them (for he too happened to be a Persarmenian by birth), and he presented them with a large sum of money. 

When this came to the knowledge of Isaac, their youngest brother, he secretly opened negotiations with the Romans, and delivered over to them the fortress of Bolum, which lies very near the limits of Theodosiopolis. For he directed that soldiers should be concealed somewhere in the vicinity, and he received them into the fort by night, opening stealthily one small gate for them. Thus he too came to Byzantium.

Little remains of Satala. Here is a small portion of their ancient Roman aqueduct.

The "Eternal Peace"

After six years of combat the Iberian war was basically a draw.  The Romans had won the Battles of Dara and Satala, but Persian losses were so high in the Battle of Callinicum it was effectively a Pyrrhic victory.  After Callinicum the Romans captured some forts in Armenia, and effectively repulsed a Persian offensive.

Justinian's envoy, Hermogenes, visited Kavadh immediately after the Battle of Callinicum to re-open negotiations but without success. Justinian therefore took steps to bolster the Roman position, trying, at the same time, to engage Kavadh diplomatically. Kavadh died shortly afterwards, and in spring 532 new negotiations began between the Roman envoys and the new Persian king, Khosrau I, who needed to devote his attention to secure his own position. 

The two sides finally came to an agreement, and the Eternal Peace, which lasted less than eight years, was signed in September 532. Both sides agreed to return all occupied territories and the Romans to make a one-off payment of 110 centenaria (11,000 pounds of gold). 

The Romans recovered the Lazic forts, Iberia remained in Persian hands, but the Iberians who had left their country were allowed to remain in Roman territory or to return to their native land.

The Iberian War had ended.  But in only eight years yet another new Roman-Persian war broke out in Lazica.

(Procopius - History of the Wars Book I XV)      (Sittas)      (Livius.org - Satala)

(Mavors.org)      (Iberian War)      (Satala-530)

The Eastern Roman and Persian Empires

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