Thursday 24 May 2012

Xerxes Heads West

(Minifigs PBs Arab Camel Riders form the vanguard of the invading Persian Army. Have a care, lads. You could take someone's eye out with those swords...)

I've assembled quite a large Cathaginian Army, but having nothing much to fight it with. So, in the spirit of Tony Bath I decided to make something up. The idea is based on some vague historic pretext, though some of the troop type involved are plainly anachronistic. But, since it let me have camels, elephants and chariots on the table at the same time, who cares?

Xerxes Invasion of Carthage BC485

On ascending the Persian throne following the death of Darius, Xerxes first task was to suppress a rebellion in Egypt. This done he now looked for other projects. He had sworn to Darius that he would avenge the defeat of Marathon, but on consideration was that really necessary? Greece was a poor place and, since its principal natural resources were yoghurt and philosophy, offered little in the way of material reward. Besides which it was tiresomely mountainous making the logistics of campaigning a frightful headache. Better by far to look for somewhere flat, rich and barbarous with treasuries full of gold and jewels. 

 (Garrison 20mm Persian light cavalry wearing high visibility pants and balaclavas - maybe buying that Vallejo orange wasn't such a great idea...)

A thought occurred to Xerxes. When Cyrus had captured the city or Tyre in BC510 he had planned to use it as a staging post for the conquest of that other Phoenician outpost Carthage. However, Cyrus’ attempts to raise a fleet for the expedition were thwarted when Tyre and the other cities of the eastern Mediterranean coast refused to sail against their Punic brethren.

Mindful of establishing himself as one of the greatest of the Great Kings, and with the fleets of Egypt, Cyprus and Ionia now fully at his disposal, Xerxes vowed to achieve what his celebrated ancestor had failed to do - extend the Persian Empire all the way to the Gates of Hercules. Carthage was rich. It had ivory, incense and Mauretanian gold. With the money from its treasuries he could pay one half of Greece to fight the other. With any luck they’d both lose.

(Minifig S Range Mede infantry from the brush of John Tuckey)

An Invasion Plan

Darius had proposed to invade Greece by marching an army along the coast of Asia and supplying it from the sea. Xerxes invasion of Carthage would proceed along similar lines. Using the western Egyptian city of Cyrene as the final staging post the Persian army would set off along the coast of what is now Libya toward the eastern most Carthaginian outpost of Leptis (near modern Tripoli) taking on water and food from the fleet as they went. After Leptis they would reduce the island fortress of Syrtis before moving up the coast to Thaptus, Hadrumetum, Clupea and finally Carthage itself.

The timing was ideal for such a strategy. Persian triremes and transports could have been vulnerable to an attack by the powerful Carthaginian navy. Fortunately the ships of Carthage were currently too busy dealing with the Greek fleets in the continuing conflict with the Sicilian tyrants Gelon and Theron to get involved in any other operations.

And so it was that in the early part of BC485 the mighty Persian host set off into the sandy wastes of Libya.

(Minifigs PBs range Assyrian chariots and horses with Minifig S and Garrison 20mm crews)

Carthage Responds

The Carthaginians had usually been able to rely on the pre-eminence of their navy to protect them from foreign invaders, but with the fleet tied up around Sicily the ruling senate realised that this time their city’s survival rested in the hands of its mercenary army under the command of Bomilcar the Boetarch. The army would march out and fight the invaders near the city of Leptis. That way even should Bomilcar be defeated there would still be time to raise more troops before the Persians closed in on Carthage itself. Sacrifices to the great god Melqarth were made to ensure that that wouldn’t be necessary.

Bomilcar seized on the idea of occupying the Barca Oasis to the east of Leptis and denying this important water supply to Persian troops [Ah, so it's the Apocryphal Well scenario again...] who had just marched across the great Libyan desert. To this end he lead cavalry and light troops swiftly forward, teamed up with the Leptis garrison – recently swelled with the arrival of a phalanx of Spartans - took up position beneath the date palms and waited for Xerxes.

(Minifigs Pbs Hannibal playing the role of Bomilcar supported by Carthaginian noble cavalry. These latter figures are the PBs Roman Civil War cavalry - code PBC103 - I need another six, if you have any...)
Xerxes had identified the Barca Oasis as an important staging post on his route. Water was vital to his vast army. He had therefore sent ahead a fast-moving commando force of cavalry, camelry and chariots bolstered by lightly armed troops with a view to holding the oasis until the main army could arrive.

One autumn morning as dawn broke over the desert, rising dust clouds to the east indicated to Bomilcar that Xerxes army was approaching.

(PBs Persian chariots, the dust has settled...)
More later....

Sorry about this huge gap at the bottom of the post. Try as I might I can't seem to get rid of it.

Maybe I should just fill it in with blather....





  1. An excellent background story Harry (as well as a scathing summary of Greek culture - in both senses of the word). I had not thought of using my excess Persian slingers as chariot drivers, now I will ! Best wishes, Nick

  2. Great backstory and colorful troops. Needless to say, I look forward to the denouement.


  3. Perfectly plausible back story, too plausible, now I wish I'd thought of it! Well I will, right after I wrap up my Bactrian triangle in a few years time.

    Oddly enough one of my favorite Garrison figures is the quite different but plume swinging 25mm Carthaginian Drummer. Must have been something about the North African beat.

  4. Quite happy to supply separate 20 or 25mm Assyrian or Persian charioteers...

  5. It is always a pleasure to see a colourful Persian army!