Map of the three main phases of the battle of river Thatis (copyright: Osprey publishing).
Corrections in the map according to my point of wiew: Thataeans= Siraces. Eumeles= Eumelos. The name of Meniskos, commander of the Greeks and Thracians, should be added. Following Alan Webster, most of Eumelos’ troops were cavalrymen. And In my point of view, Satyrus’ left wing was comprised overwhelmingly of light infantry.
Satyros’ Scythian army invaded the Thataean/Siracian territory supported by many wagons with food and supplies, in order not to face supply problems in the hostile country. When they reached river Thatis, they found the enemy army waiting for them on the opposite river bank. Satyros decided to cross the river despite the threat by the deployed Siraces. It seems, paradoxically, that the later did not prevent the enemy crossing. Aripharnes possibly wanted to fight the decisive battle at his own territory and did not attack the Scythian army during the crossing of Thatis, a move that would bring perhaps the retreat of Satyros’ army. Besides, Aripharnes did not wish the presence of a numerous enemy army for a long time at his territory (covering both of the riverbanks of Thatis), that would pillage and destroy the Siracian lands. Thus he was aiming at a decisive battle and that is why he did not block the crossing.
The Scythian army established a fortified camp with its wagons near the riverbank of Thatis, and quickly lined up for battle in front of the camp. Satyros placed the Greek hoplites under Meniskos (commander of the mercenaries) at the right wing of his army, supported at the top of the wing by the Thracian peltasts. According to the ancient sources, in the left wing he arrayed Scythian cavalry and infantry. According to the process of the battle, it is most probable that he placed there only some Scythian horsemen and cavalrymen (probably a few) and a great number of light infantry. In the center of his battle line, Satyros placed Scythian cavalry and infantry as well, but is seems that in this case the cavalrymen were more numerous than the infantrymen. He also took his place in the center, commanding the bulk of the Scythian armored cavalry.
The composition of the Siracian/Thataean order of battle is not known, but the ancient quotations on the process of the battle, provide enough data on this composition. Eumelos assumed command of the left wing, against the Greeks and Thracians, apparently because as a Bosporan, he knew very well their tactics. As it will be discussed below, he rather commanded numerous Sarmatian cavalrymen, many of whom would have been elite troops (armored etc.), in order to ensure the disruption of the hoplite phalanx and the peltasts that supported and protected it. Eumelos would also command his few Bosporan supporters (probably exclusively cavalry). Aripharnes took his place in the center of his army, commanding Siracian/Sarmatian cavalry and infantry. It is certain that Aripharnes’ cavalry in the center, included many elite cavalrymen (the king’s bodyguard). The Siracian right wing included the rest of the cavalry and light infantry, but it seems that the infantrymen there, were overwhelmingly more numerous than the cavalrymen.
Ritual battle axe from a Scythian burial mound.
The battle began with a general attack of all the opponent parts, which clashed in a stubborn conflict with many victims. Satyros finally managed to crush Aripharnes in the frontline of the center, and then led the Scythian cavalry against the Siracian second line of the center (reserve troops) which he also defeated. Meanwhile Eumelos had managed to repel his Greek and Thracian opponents. However, Meniskos’ men were strong and experienced soldiers (as mercenaries after all), and it is quoted that in the process of Satyros’ campaign they achieved deeds of valour in the operations against the Siraces.
The British researcher Alan Webster considering this quotation, aptly observes that the most likely explanation is that the Greeks and Thracians confronted masses of enemy cavalry. Eumelos knew very well that he could break the solid hoplite phalanx (although numbering only 2,000 hoplites) only by unleashing a great number of heavy cavalry against it. Moreover, the hoplites were supported by 2,000 hardened Thracian peltasts. Webster thinks that the 20,000 Siracian/Sarmatian cavalrymen were divided equally between Aripharnes and Eumelos (about 10,000 to each one of them) and that the right wing of the army consisted almost exclusively of infantry. It is possible that the enforcement of many elite cavalry given by the Siracian king to the Bosporan pretender, brought the weakening of his own corps in the center and his defeat there by Satyros’ cavalry. This version is enhanced by the description of the battle by Diodorus, from which it cannot be suggested that Satyros confronted superior forces in the center. Additionally, the Scythian heavy cavalry was probably superior qualitatively comparing to the Sarmatian – a correlation which was reversed dramatically in the next century for reasons that I shall discuss in another article.
Two thousand hoplites took part in the Battle of the River Thatis and were the protagonists of the siege of the Siracian capital (phalanx reenactment by the British Historical Association Hoplite Association).
After Satyros’ victory in the center, the prudent king did not chase the defeated Sarmatian cavalrymen but quickly regrouped his cavalry and immediately turned against against Eumelos who continued to repel Meniskos’ mercenaries. The Bosporan king attacked the rear of the cavalrymen of his brother, surprising them and dissolving their order. Diodorus does not mention the outcome of the conflict on the left wing of Satyros’ battle line (versus the right wing of the Siraces). It seems that at this wing there was no winner, or the result did not affect the process and the outcome of the whole battle. In this way the skilled general Satyros destroyed one by one the two most powerful divisions of the hostile army and won the battle. Soon the whole army of Eumelos and Aripharnes, suffering numerous losses, fled from the field under the pursuit of the winners. Finally the Siracian survivors with their two leaders found shelter in their capital. Apparently the Scythians drank the blood of their dead enemies and removed their scalp as a trophy (habit similar to that of the North American natives).
Aripharnes’ capital in the river bank of Thatis, was protected by strong fortifications and in addition was built in a very defendable physical location. Satyros’ army plundered the region – one of the main objectives of his Scythian allies – and then began the siege. The Bosporan king knew that his victory on the battlefield would have no value, if he could not capture or kill his brother. Determined to conquer Aripharnes’ fortress, he led a tumultuous assault against it. The Thataeans/Siraces, their king and Eumelos passionately defended the capital, so the new conflict at its fortifications resulted to a carnage. At this stage, Meniskos’ mercenaries distinguished themselves compared to the Scythians – a natural consequence of their ability in static siege warfare, against the capacity of the later in cavalry warfare. Satyros’ attacks lasted four days. On the fourth day the brave Bosporan king (who insisted on fighting himself, like Alexander or Caesar) was seriously wounded and finally died the same night, 9 months after the death of Pairisades I. Meniskos was now the head of the army, who decided to raise the siege and return to the Bosporan kingdom. Noteworthy is the fact that the commander of the mercenaries did not take advantage of Satyros’ death. If he went on with the siege, he would probably capture the Siracian capital and he would kill Eumelos. Then he could declare king/tyrant one of the minor Spartocid princes as his subservient, holding for himself the real power (and later he would overthrow the “pawn”, becoming himself the Bosporan king/tyrant). Instead, Meniskos withdrew his army from the Thataean region, taking with him Satyros’ dead body.
Prytanis, Pairisades’ third-born son, succeeded his brother Satyros to the throne of the Bosporan kingdom and assumed the leadership of the army. He assumed his office in the city Gargaza and prepared for the war against his brother Eumelos. Eumelos attempted to avoid a new war, possibly because he no longer had confidence in the fighting abilities of Aripharnes’ army.
CONTINUE READING IN PART III