Monday, June 27, 2011

The Beginning of the Dacian War

Gaius Julius Caesar was, in 692 AUC (62 BC), a rising star in the Roman Republic.  He had successfully leveraged his popularity with the Roman people to further the enfranchisement of the other cities of Italia, with the Lex Julia.  As his term as Praetor drew to a close, he was able to leverage his new popularity with the rest of the peninsula to advance his career further.

So it was that, in 694 AUC (60 BC), he served a term as Consul, during which time, he spent much of his energies planning and preparing for a military campaign to crown his career.  He was not stifled for lack of options.  To the north, in Gallia, the Helvetian tribes were pushing up against tribes allied to the Republic.  Meanwhile, in the east, the Dacians, under the king Burebista, were launching a series of campaigns against the various independent tribes in Illyricum.  Burebista also supported various Greek cities that were discontent with Roman rule, always flirting just on the edge of acceptable conduct.

Burebista had worked hard during his time as king of the Getae tribe, pre-eminent among the Dacian peoples.  He was responsible for the expansion of their territory up to the Hypanis (Bug) River  in the north, down to Dionysopolis (Balchik, Bulgaria) in the south, and west to Hercynia (Moravia).  He reformed the Dacian military and refined the fortification of many locations, in the Murus Dacicus style, a combination of Dacian and Greco-Roman engineering.

Caesar was ultimately destined to campaign against Dacia, and soon, treaties were made with various tribes along their borders, including the Scordisci, Boii, and Taurisci confederations, all of which were feeling the weight of Burebista's armies.  Caesar then was assigned, at the end of his term, to the province of Illyricum, and made the final preparations for his campaign.

He issued several proclamations demanding that the Dacians leave the allies of the people of Rome alone, while mustering his forces, gathering up many auxiliary troops and an additional legion, recruited from volunteers across the Italian municipalities.  He was also able to procure the support of the Thracian king, Spartacus, a long-standing Roman ally.

As Burebista continued to defy Caesar's demands, Caesar began to march off to war, determined to conquer Dacia.  Against him stood Burebista's armies, numbering nearly 200,000, as well as their allies, the Bastarnae tribes to the north.  Caesar had, under his command, three legions, the Legio V Illyrica, Legio VIII Victrix, and Legio X Felix, numbering roughly 24,000, as well as an equal number of auxiliary troops.  His allies included Spartacus, with an army of roughly 20,000 men in total, as well the force of the Scordisci, Boii, and Taurisci tribes.  As the war began, Caesar was also able to secure the allegiance of the Jazyges, a Sarmatian tribe living in the vicinity of Dacia that had dealing with the Republic.

Caesar's army quickly reached the Danuvius (Danube) River and linked up with Spartacus' Thracians.  He spent the first year of the war securing fortifications up and down the river, and building ships to patrol it.  It was near the end of the campaign season in 695 AUC (59 BC) that the first major battle took place, near the Greek city of Tomis, in the region known as Scythia Minor (Dobruja).  The Dacian army was able to cross the river with little difficulty, and march down one of the smaller rivers toward Tomis, where they intended to then foliow the coastline and draw as much of Caesar's army away from the Danuvius as possible.

Caesar, leading the Legio VIII, though well behind the Dacians, was able to make up the difference relatively quickly, through both forced march and by transporting most of their supplies by boat, enabling their baggage train to be carried along with great speed.  Though the Dacian general, Dapyx, expected to be well into Thracia before the Roman army could reach him, they were able to catch up to his forces before he even reached the Euxine Sea.

With the rivers and lagoons to their back, the Dacians hurried to build makeshift defenses, which quickly became inundated by unexpectedly heavy rains.  Though the rains slowed down the Roman advance somewhat, they devastated the Dacian fortifications.  Dapyx then marched his troops, numbering roughly 40,000, against Caesar's army of roughly 20,000 (8,000 Legionaries, 8,000 Auxiliaries, and 4,000 Thracians).  

Caesar ordered the Thracians, on the left flank, to give way to the advancing Dacians, while holding much of his cavalry in reserve.  As the Dacians poured through the gap in the line, the Roman cavalry stormed down on them, driving them against the river, where the ground was still too soggy for effective cavalry charges.  However, by this point, the Thracians had reorganized their lines and had once again made contact with the Dacians, while the bulk of the Roman force was occupied with holding down the remaining Dacian army, while the forward units were destroyed.

Now, with the numbers of the opposing forces much more equal, Caesar's army began to roll back Dapyx's, shattering the Dacian force.  Roughly 12,000 Dacian soldiers were able to escape the battle, a loss of almost 28,000.  Meanwhile, Caesar's forces had lost almost 8,000 troops.  Through this hard-fought battle, Caesar's forces were able to secure Scythia Minor relatively quickly afterward, shoring up fortifications in the area.  By the spring of 696 AUC (58 BC), the region was firmly under Roman control, depriving Burebista of many of his Euxine Sea ports.  Meanwhile, Caesar also enrolled two new legions, the XI Scythica and the XII Tempesta.

So, clearly, Caesar will not be conquering Gaul in this history, but Dacia in its place.  I figured that, since this is Julius Caesar we're talking about here, he deserves more detail and embellishment, so I've gone into more detail about the forces involved and the battles.

A note about the legions named: they're total fabrications.  At this point, most legions were still temporary units, apparently, and so the units Caesar had in our history and this were recruited during his terms.  This means that the numbering and naming of the units will differ from those used in the Gallic campaigns of our history.

Burebista, also, was an interesting character.  He expanded Dacia far beyond the realm he inherited, reformed the government, improved its fortresses, and dabbled in involving himself in the various Roman civil wars of our history.  Caesar was planning on invading Dacia for his trouble, right before he was assassinated.  Burebista faired little better, however, and died soon after.  His kingdom collapsed into different successor states, which combined weren't able to field a quarter of the army that he had.  Its really amazing how many grand empire builders there were around this time.  A shame, almost.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Early Period of the Menander League

The reign of Maues and his successors saw a renewed prosperity for the Greek kingdoms of India.  Maues, Azes, and Abdagases after Azes, were all admirers of Greek culture and favored the Greeks among their many allies.  Under Xanthian patronage, the kingdoms were were united in a loose confederation, in 683 AUC (71 BC), known as the Menander League, named after Menander I, who, half a century before, united the Indo-Greek states.

The league could hardly be considered to be a unified polity, but prevented armed conflict between the Greeks, who were also protected from barbarian incursion from the north by Xanthian territory, as well as by the Xanthian support of sedentary states beyond, such as Dahae, Kwarezm, and Sogdiana.  In this stable climate, the Indo-Greek states prospered and expanded.  At that time, the Indian political climate was chaotic and unstable, as the Sunga Empire which had ruled began to collapse upon itself.  The opportunistic Greeks, with tacit support from their Xanthian patrons, were able to capitalize on the situation, expanding their influence south to the mouth of the Indus, and east, into the upper Gangetic plain.  True to form, the conquerers were an independent and stubborn lot, and, thus, instead of the new territories being added to existing states, new Greek states were formed, expanding the League in that fashion. 

Though the Indo-Greeks continued to squabble amongst themselves, their economy and cities expanded, with great engineering and architectural works being completed during this time, among them many Buddhist monuments.  As Buddhism had grown in popularity with the Greeks living in India, as well as the Xanthian royal family (though the Xanthian Empire made few efforts at proselytization)

As the Greeks expanded their holdings, native states began to assert themselves against the possibility of invasion by the Indo-Greeks, congealing into larger empires.  Just to the south of the Menander League, the kingdom of Surastrene, or Surashtra, (the Kathiawar peninsula), expanded up to the Thar desert, and along the coastline, until it abutted the Satavahana dynasty.  The Satavahanas, for their part, were consolidating their empire across southern India.

Even the failing Sunga dynasty experienced something of a resurgence, with states as far west as Mathura seeking the protection of Devabhuti, the Sunga king.  However, Devabhuti, in his eagerness to restore the glory of his dynasty, overextended his resources and presented an appealing target for the kingdom of Kalinga to the south, invading in 696 AUC (58 BC).  The war was quick, with the Sunga capital of Pataliputra falling before the end of the year, with the city gates being opened by treachery, and Devabhuti being killed by a slave girl. Kalinga thus took the place of Sunga, without much further resistance, and expanded its influence up the Ganges.


The Indo-Greeks are one of the more interesting anomalies of history, and deserve a little love.  Their downfall seems inevitable, given how far they are from their homeland, but they hung on for quite some time; several centuries, in fact.  With Maues invading Parthia, instead of the Indo-Greek kingdoms, they get a slight reprieve, which is assisted by the support of Maues himself, as well as his successors.  For a comparison, think of the League of Corinth, during Alexander's time, slightly watered down; not direct control, but stability, enforced from the outside.

The rest of India is being shaken around a bit, as it was, anyway.  There aren't nearly as many records of Indian kings at this point, so, unfortunately, India, for the most part, won't get the same personal touch as the west does, for some time.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The First Armenian War

In the wake of the various conflicts that were taking place to the east of Roman territory, such as the Mithridatic War, Tigranes' wars of conquest, Maues' conquest of Parthia, Roman attention was very much drawn to the area, both from concern about danger to the possibility to exploit the instability brought by those wars.

To this end, the Roman Republic entered into an alliance with the Xanthian Kingdom in 678 AUC (76 BC), against possible threats from their mutual neighbor, the Kingdom of Armenia, still ruled by Tigranes the Great.  Both the Romans and Xanthians eyed territory ruled by Tigranes; the Romans sought Syria, while the Xanthians sought northern Mesopotamia.  Tigranes, however, played the game of diplomacy well and did not provide either state with a cause for war, even though he himself had a valid cause in the subjugation of Characene, Elymais, and Persia by Maues.

Maues would end up dying in 682 AUC (72 BC), of an old wound sustained in battle, which had grown aggravated in recent years.  He was succeeded by his young son, Azes, who had developed a reputation as an intellectual and recluse.  In the early months of his reign, he quickly showed great aptitude for administration, but no inclination towards military matters.  Tigranes found the opportunity to be too great, and had grown restless in the years, yearning to resume the expansion of his empire.  Further, the Roman Republic had committed most its forces to fighting various barbarian tribes along the frontiers.  Invoking his duties to protect his allies to the south, Trigranes invaded Xanthian Mesopotamia, quickly marching on Seleucia and Ctesiphon.

Azes dispatched an army under the command of Zeonises, a prestigious aristocrat and general in the Xanthian court.  However, Zeonises owed much of his position to political intrigues and heredity, and was not half as skilled a general as he was purported to be.  His army, though it should have been more than a match for Tigranes', suffered repeated defeats, bloodied severely with each battle.

Compounding matters was Zeonises' style of command.  Though not nearly competent enough for the task ahead of him, Zeonises was, at the very least, courageous, and led his troops into battle himself, throwing himself into the thick of each battle.  Here, his skill as a single combatant shone.  However, that skill was overshadowed by his mediocre tactical and strategic senses, and provided him with enough arrogance to ignore the advice of those who knew better.  Zeonises would be killed in action in a battle near the ruins of old Babylon in early 683 AUC (71 BC), in which his army was utterly routed.

Azes then dispatched another general, Spalahores, to lead a new army against Tigranes.  Spalahores was much more cautious than Zeonises, and avoided open battle with Tigranes, preferring instead to attempt to wear down the invading force, which now held Mesopotamia in its entirety.  The year 684 AUC (70 BC) proved bittersweeet.  In that year, the Roman Republic sent an army under Gneaus Pompeius to Syria, to assist their allies against Tigranes.  However, at the same time, a rival rose up against Azes, his cousin, Vonones, who doubted Azes' ability to rule, given his lack of military experience.

Azes was thus forced to lead an army himself against Vonones, while resources were directed from Spalahores to that end.  Meanwhile, Tigranes led a portion of his army against Pompeius.  Pompeius was nothing if not methodical, and was regarded as something of a logistical genius, having established a very thorough and effective supply train for his legions.  He had served with distinction under Sertorius in various campaigns, and now had used his political backing to secure a command of his own.

The Syrian coastal cities fell quickly to a series of assaults and sieges, while Pompeius maintained complete naval dominance, ensuring that he could move his forces quickly and effectively.  Combined with extensive scouting, he was well aware of Tigranes' advances, and was able to transfer his troops accordingly, scoring an early victory against Tigranes' outside of Antioch in the first year.

However, around the same time, Azes was having difficulty putting down the revolt by Vonones, having lost consecutive battles to the pretender.  Azes decided to conclude the war against Tigranes, ceding Mesopotamia to the Armenian king and confirming the independence of Characene, which quickly fell under Armenian influence.  Azes then commanded Spalahores to march his army east, to assist Azes.  As it happened, Vonones, knowing that he had to defeat his cousin before the relief army could reach him, launched a surprise attack on the king's forces.  However, the battle quickly turned against the pretender army, and Vonones was shot by an arrow and died, leading to the surrender of his forces.  Azes was left in complete control of the Xanthian Kingdom, and spent the rest of the year touring the country to solidify his control.

Meanwhile, Tigranes was able to divert more troops against Pompeius, and the two forces met again, several miles west of Palmyra.  There, the Roman forces were victorious and Tigranes' army suffered significant casualties and was forced to retreat from Syria, to meet up with reinforcements.  Pompeius did not pursue Tigranes', however, preferring to secure the cities of Syria.  Thus, Tigranes was able to return with a new army in 685 AUC (69 BC), fighting several inconclusive battles against Pompeius, exhausting both armies, as the battle sites moved inexorably closer to the Armenian homeland.

Eventually, Tigranes concluded that he had little chance of holding onto Syria, and come to terms with the Romans, accepting their conquest of the territory.  Syria became a Roman province, and Pompeius earned the cognomen, 'Syricus.'  Meanwhile, Tigranes effectively exchanged Syria and access to the Mediterranean for Mesopotamia, and access to the Persian Gulf.


Not much to explain on this one.  I would like to mention, however, that Pompeius behaves much as he does in our history.  Methodical and cautious, he missed many opportunities to follow up with victories.  Reading of his exploits occasionally reminds me of General McClellan.

I decided to follow up Maues, a conqueror in the mold of Alexander (though conquering in the opposite direction), with Azes, an intellectual more concerned with administration and diplomacy; just the kind of king the Xanthians need, but also, the kind that hasn't earned respect from the rowdy warlords that had done all the hard work of conquering the empire in the first place.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reforms of the Roman Republic

In the wake of Sulla's revolt and the Lepidian Conspiracy, the city of Rome was very much an armed camp in many respects.  Distrust and suspicion ruled the day, and civil order was held together tenuously.  Unpopular politicians were at substantial risk of being attacked by dissident citizens, of all classes.  Many politicians unscrupulously sought power for themselves (not that such opportunism has ever been a stranger to politics).  Populares harnessed the power of the mob, while Optimates harnessed the fear of the mob, but both to the same end, personal power.  However, the same paranoia that gripped the Republic at this time also tended to be the downfall of overly ambitious politicians.

Eventually, many of the more patriotic Romans were able to make progress in stabilizing the state by addressing the many different issues that plagued the Republic at this point in history.  Before elaborating on the specific reforms, it should be mentioned that the key difference between the supposed patriotic reformers and the ambitious selfish reformers was that the former succeeded and the latter did not.  In other words, in an example of history being written by the victors, those politicians who proved to be unable to implement their reforms were cast as would-be autocrats, partially to further highlight the necessity of the successful reforms, and to exaggerate the tranquility they brought.

The first reform of note was the Lex Pompeia, enacted in 683 AUC (71 BC) by the Plebeian Council, under Gneaus Pompeius Syricus (though not yet called Syricus), who was Praetor at the time, and collaborated with both Tribunes to ease its passage.  The Lex Pompeia had two provisions.  The first provision of this law was to effectively abolish the ability of magistrates to disband assemblies by claiming that unfavorable omens had been observed.  In the instability that the Republic faced at this time, this method of blocking legislation had been greatly abused.  Cicero records such examples of politicians disbanding assemblies on trumped up omens: the Tribal Assembly being disbanded after thunder was heard, on a sunny day; on another occasion, it was disbanded on account of a magistrate having an uneasy stomach; the Centuriate Assembly was disbanded one day due to smoke from a fire, suspected to have been started by opponents to the business on the Assembly's agenda.

The second provision of the Lex Pompeia was to declare clubs of a 'semi-political nature' illegal, referring to the various armed gangs that were common in the city at the time.  This provision was unpopular with the plebeians, but was part of a compromise in order to ensure that the higher magistrates did not attempt to block the first provision.  The Lex Pompeia was very successful, and the legislative assemblies were able to conduct business normally once more, while violence greatly subsided in the city.

Though not a law, in 684 AUC (70 BC), the Senate issued a decree that called for the exile of anyone who executed a Romen citizen without trial.  In the political violence of the time, a few high profile instances of individuals being executed on Senatorial authority, particularly during Sulla's revolt, without due process, had occurred, much to the distaste of many Romans.  Unfortunately, one of the individuals so exiled was the famed Lucius Julius Caesar, who had, however, already retired to an estate in Campania, and accepted his punishment stoically, particularly as it had little real bearing on him.

The next reform law worth noting is the Lex Lutatia, enacted in 685 AUC (69 BC), by the Plebeian Council, under Quintus Lutatius Catalus Audax, who was the Plebeian Tribune.  The Lex Lutatia was framed to resolve the fact that the Centuriate Assembly no longer represented the military well at all.  Since Marius, Romans without land comprised the overwhelming majority of the legions.  However, in the Centuriate Assembly, which was supposed to represent the Roman soldiers, they only held one fifth of the vote, as the Proletarian Centuries.  Further, the Centuriate Assembly voted in class order and, like all Roman assemblies, stopped voting once a majority was reached.  This meant that the Proletarian Centuries almost never voted, as a majority was almost certainly reached well before the vote would proceed their ranks.  Thus, the Roman military was almost completely disenfranchised, a fact which they soldiers were well aware of, and proved to be a serious point of friction regarding their loyalty to the state over personal loyalties.

To address this, the Lex Lutatia first set the voting order of the Centuriate Assembly to be random, much as the Tribal Assembly was.  When voting was to commence, a century would be picked at random and their vote would be cast.  Then another century would be picked, at random, and so forth, until a majority had been reached.  By itself, this would have immediately lent more legitimacy to the Proletarian Centuries, but it would not have increased their voice, as they still only held one fifth of the total votes, even though they dominated the military.

Thus, the Lex Lutatia also reformed the organization of voting centuries, from five property classes to six, with two of them being reserved for the Proletarian Centuries.  Though still woefully under-represented, those soldiers now had twice the voice in the Centuriate Assembly, and began to use it to their advantage, at least when not on campaign, since all votes required citizens to be physically present in Rome, a point that would raise later issues.

Another Senatorial decree, issued in 687 AUC (67 BC),  effectively abolished the office of Dictator.  While there had not be an actual Dictator in over a century, the Senate occasionally granted dictatorial authority by means of the Final Decree, or Senatus Consultum Ultimum.  Led by the orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was Consul in that year, the Senate determined that such extraordinary powers were unneeded to protect the state.  Not so much in that there were no threats to the Roman Republic, but that it had become clear that the Final Decree itself was a threat, as the power granted proved too problematic.  Sulla had marched on Rome under such authority, as had Fimbria before him.  Caesar had executed Roman citizens, an act for which he accepted punishment, admittedly, under the same authority.  With such examples, the Senate was rightly afraid of what could happen in the future, if a Roman commander were successful in marching on Rome.

In 692 AUC (62 BC), the Tribal Assembly, under Gaius Julius Caesar, Praetor at that time, passed the Lex Julia.  Prior to this, the Tribal Assembly rarely passed legislation, but given the political climate and Caesar's audacious manner, unconventional, but constitutional, methods were the order of the day.  Caesar's rationale was the that Lex Julia directly impacted the Tribal Assembly.  The provision of the law was that the various territories of the Italian and Latin cities be organized into more tribes.

After the Lex Cornelia was passed 26 years earlier, the newly enfranchised cities were divided amongst 8 of the 35 existing tribes, to ensure that their votes would not dominate the assembly.  Caesar sought to make their representation somewhat more equitable, and, thus, the Lex Julia increased their allotment from 8 tribes to 12.  This involved a fair amount of gerrymandering on Caesar's part, but made him very popular with the rest of Italia, a fact which would prove useful for him when he needed recruits for his campaigns.

With the Lex Julia, the rush of reforming legislation waned.  The Republic was generally fairly conservative, by nature, and it would take some time for Rome to adjust to the changes to their system.  The reforms were largely successful in restoring peaceful civil government to the city, as well as the entire Italian peninsula.   Something of a minor golden age occurred, as genuine debate and discourse returned to the halls of Roman government, without the fear of violent reprisals for being part of the wrong faction of the moment.


First, remember that this section is written from the point of view of someone of this timeline.  Thus, though the era may be described as being plagued by political violence, it is nothing compared to the murderous mobs and legalized proscriptions of our history.  Also, the hypothetical writer of this piece is also not an unbiased source, and may attribute more tranquility to these reforms than they deserve.  Popular unrest may also have been abated by military adventures.

Some of these reforms did happen in our history, though at different times and by different sections of the government, such as the provisions of the Lex Pompeia and the Senate decree outlawing executions without trial.  Others were things that struck me as issues that needed to be fixed (particularly the Centuriate Assembly) and I devised the ways that I thought would be most palatable to Romans of the time.

Also, Pompeius Syricus is our Pompey the Great, and Caesar (not Lucius Julius Caesar, the one who gets exiled) and Cicero are the same as in our history.  As a matter of fact, Quintus Lutatius Catalus Audax, the Plebeian Tribune mentioned in this section, is the first invented character so far.  Expect more non-historical figures in upcoming entries.  Lastly, given how convoluted the Roman legislative process was, I do not claim with 100% certainty that I wrote all this correctly.