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Assorted Imperial Battle Descriptions

Cartography by Christos Nüssli

Back to: De Imperatoribus Romanis

The descriptions of Assorted Imperial Battles are listed below in alphabetical order. If you wish to see a map of the the location of a particular battle, simply click on the hypertext link for the name of a particular battle. Remember only to have one map open at a time. Additionally, one can link to some of the imperial essays through links in some of the battle descriptions.


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Battle of Abrittus, A.D. 251 Battle fought as part of Roman operations against Gothic invaders of the Balkans in 250-251. After initial Roman successes, the Romans were drawn into the marshes and surrounded. The emperor Decius and his son were killed and the Romans took heavy casualties. Trebonianus Gallus extricated the survivors.

Battle of Actium, B.C. 31 Naval battle between Octavian and Antony which ended the Republican civil wars. Octavian's fleet was led by Agrippa. Antony's forces included many eastern allies, including a large Egyptian contingent under Cleopatra. Antony's fleet rapidly lost cohesion and disintegrated before battle was fully joined.

Battle of Ad Decimum, A.D. 533. Battle fought as part of Roman invasion of Vandal Africa on September 13th, 533 during the reign of Justinian, at the tenth milestone (Ad Decimum) south of Carthage. Belisarius' cavalry (c6,000) probed towards the Vandal army led by King Gelimer and was able to defeat some small forces, including a contingent led by Gelimer's brother, Ammatas. Gelimer then led the Vandal main body to some success, until he learned of his brother's death. Then Vandals were then pushed back and their army disintegrated, allowing the Romans to occupy Carthage. Casualties on both sides were low.

Battle of Adrianople, A.D. 378. On 9 August 378, A Roman force under the emperor Valens met a force of Goths under Fritigern. The battle opened prematurely, before the Romans had finished deploying. As the main bodies clashed, the Roman left, deploying late, was caught by a force of Gothic cavalry and collapsed. Fighting continued to nightfall and Valens was killed. The number of troops engaged is unknown, though Roman losses were severe (perhaps two-thirds of the forces engaged).

Battle of Akroinon, A.D. 740. An Umayyad Arab army under Suleiman invaded Asia Minor and plundered widely in several detachments. One part of the raiders was defeated by Leo III and Constantine V at Acroinon, on the western edge of the Anatolian plateau. Although the Byzantines had won some smaller victories over Arab raiders in the preceding decades, this victory left Constantine well-placed to take advantage of the collapse of the Ummyyad dynasty.


The First Battle of Bedriacum, AD 69. (The First Battle of Cremona) In an attempt to control the Po River crossing south of Cremona, the armies of Vitellius and Otho, rivals for the Roman throne, met in a decisive battle on April 14, A.D. 69. The Vitellian legions broke through and defeated the center of the outnumbered and unprepared Othonian forces. The news of this defeat prompted Otho to commit suicide, briefly ending the civil war.


Battle of Callinicum, A.D. 531. Battle between Romans and Persians in Mesopotamia during the reign of Justinian. The campaign involved the Romans forcing the Persians to fight as they retreated from Roman territory. The Persian forces, c15,000 and a contingent of Lakhmid Arab allies, were led by Azarethes. They were opposed by a Roman force of c20,000 men led by Belisarius which included c5,000 Ghassanid Arab allies. The Romans deployed with their left flank on the Euphrates. The Persians broke through the Roman left flank and were able to drive Belisarius against the river. Here, the Romans were able to resist the Persians and withdraw much of their army across the river. The Persians were then able to complete their withdrawal from Roman territory and did not attempt to follow up their victory.

Siege of Constantinople, AD 1453. The siege and capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks took place in three phases. The initial investment began 5th April, 1453. The Byzantine forces led by Constantine XI, were weak. Only 5000 Byzantines, supported by c2000 allies, mostly Italian, garrisoned a wall circuit 14 miles long. The Byzantine fleet was composed of 26 ships. The Ottoman forces under Mehmed II comprised c80,000 regular troops and 20,000 Bashi-Bazouks, supported by a fleet of 126 ships. Early Ottoman probes against the walls and harbor were repulsed. The second phase took place 22nd April, when 70 Ottoman ships were moved overland into the Golden Horn, bypassing the harbor boom, and now stretching the defenders more thinly. The third phase was the final assault on walls which took place early morning, Tuesday 29th May. In this assault, the first two waves (of Bashi-Bazouks and Anatolian troops respectively) were repulsed. The third assault wave of Janissaries was successful. Constantine XI was killed in the fighting and his body was never identified.

Battle of Cotyaeum, AD 491 Battle fought in Phrygia between the rebel Longinus of Cardala and Anastasius. Longinus of Cardala's army was composed mostly of Isaurians. Subordinate commanders included Conon Phuscianus (an ex- bishop) and Longinus of Selinus. Anastasius' army was led by John the Scythian and John the Hunchback. Subordinate commanders included Justin (the future emperor), Apsal. Longinus' forces were decisively defeated and the rebels retreated to fortresses in Isauria where imperial forces slowly winkled them out over the next seven years.

Sieges of Ctesiphon, A.D. 198, Battle of Ctesiphon, AD 198 In late 197 the Roman armies of Septimius Severus began to sweep through upper Mesopotamia, traveling down the Euphrates. They sacked Seleucia, Babylon and then reached Ctesiphon, which they surprised. The Parthian king Vologaeses V fled, accompanied only by a small cavalry force. A few days later, on 28 January 198, Severus took the victory title Parthicus Maximus.







Battle of Issus, A.D. 194. By late spring 194, the armies of Septimius Severus had fought their way through the Cilician Gates and were in Cilicia, preparing to enter Syria. The Emperor Pescennius Niger and his army met the Severan troops near Issus, at an unknown date in 194. The battle was a decisive defeat for Niger, who fled back to Antioch; the remainder of his support collapsed. Niger prepared to flee once more, but outside Antioch he was captured and killed. Syria was pacified.




Siege of Lugdunum, A.D. 197 The Battle of Lyon took place 19 February 197 and involved more than 100,000 men. Septimius Severus' army was mostly composed of Illyrian, Moesian and Dacian legions, probably with the support of some of the Rhine troops. In the initial fighting, Clodius Albinus' troops forced the forces of Septimius Severus into retreat, during which Severus fell off his horse. But Albinus' success was short-lived. The Severan cavalry appeared under the command of Laetus, and Albinus' army was routed. The battlefield was strewn with bodies, and Severus' victorious troops were allowed to vent their anger by sacking Lyon. Albinus committed suicide.








Battle of Sarmizegetusa (Sarmizegetuza), A.D. 105. During Trajan's reign one of the most important Roman successes was the victory over the Dacians.The first important confrontation between the Romans and the Dacians took place in the year 87 and was initiated by Domitian. The praetorian prefect Cornelius Fuscus led five or six legions across the Danube on a bridge of ships and advanced towards Banat (in Romania). The Romans were surprised by a Dacian attack at Tapae (near the village of Bucova, in Romania). Legion V Alaude was crushed and Cornelius Fuscus was killed. The victorious general was originally known as Diurpaneus (see Manea, p.109), but after this victory he was called Decebalus (the brave one).

In the year 88, the Romans resumed the offensive. The Roman troops were now led by the general Tettius Iulianus. The battle took place again at Tapae but this time the Romans defeated the Dacians. For fear of falling into a trap, Iulianus abandoned his plans of conquering Sarmizegetuza and, at the same time, Decebalus asked for peace. At first, Domitian refused this request , but after he was defeated in a war in Pannonia against the Marcomanni (a Germanic tribe), the emperor was obliged to accept the peace.

Because the Dacians represented an obstacle against Roman expansion in the east, in the year 101 the emperor Trajan decided to begin a new campaign against them. The first war began on 25 March 101 and the Roman troops, consisting of four principal legions (X Gemina , XI Claudia , II Traiana Fortis, and XXX Ulpia Victrix), defeated the Dacians. Although the Dacians had been defeated, the emperor postponed the final siege for the conquering of Sarmizegetuza because his armies needed reorganization. Trajan imposed on the Dacians very hard peace conditions: Decebalus had to renounce claim to some regions of his kingdom, including Banat, Tara Hategului, Oltenia, and Muntenia in the area south-west of Transylvania. He had also to surrender all the Roman deserters and all his war machines. At Rome, Trajan was received as a winner and he took the name of Dacicus, a title that appears on his coinage of this period. At the beginning of the year 103 A.D., there were minted coins with the inscription: IMP NERVA TRAIANVS AVG GER DACICVS.

However, during the years 103-105, Decebalus did not respect the peace conditions imposed by Trajan and the emperor then decided to destroy completely the Dacian kingdom and to conquer Sarmizegetuza. The siege for the conquering of Sarmizegetuza took place in the summer of the year 106. The Roman armies headed towards this fortress: the first part passed through Valea Cernei, Hateg, and Valea Streiului and destroyed the Dacian fortresses at Costesti, Blidaru, and Piatra Rosie; the second part climbed the Valea Jiului, passed through the Sureanu Mountains and arrived at Banita; the third part, led probably by Trajan, left from Drobeta and passed through Sucidava, Romula (now Resca, in Romania), and Valea Oltului and arrived at Tilisca before going then to Capalna; the rest of the troops left from Moesia Inferior and passed through Bran, Bratocea, and Oituz and destroying the Dacian fortresses between Cumidava (now Rasnov, in Romania) and Angustia (now Bretcu, in Romania). At the battle for the conquest of Sarmizegetuza the following legions participated: II Adiutrix, IV Flavia Felix, and a special detachment from Legio VI Ferrata (which until this war had been stationed in Judaea).

The first assault was repelled by the Dacians. The Romans attacked again with their war machines and, at the same time, after a while they built a platform to more easily attack the fortress. Then they destroyed the water pipes of Sarmizegetuza and obliged the defenders to retire before they set fire to their city.The Romans finally succeeded in entering the Dacian sacred enclosure, hailed Trajan as emperor and then destroyed the whole fortress. Legion IV Flavia Felix was stationed there to guard what remained of Sarmizegetuza. After the end of the siege, Bicilis, a confidant of Decebalus, betrayed his king and the Romans discovered the Dacian treasure which , according to Jerome Carcopino (p.73), consisted of 165,000 kilograms of pure gold and 331,000 kilograms of silver in the bed of the Sergetia River (Cassius Dio 68.14).

Defeated, Decebalus retired to the mountains, but he was followed by the Romans and so was obliged to commit suicide. His head and his right arm were brought to Trajan who was at Ranistorum (modern location can not be identified). The Romans reorganized Dacia ( now Romania) as a Roman province and built another center of administration at a distance of 40 km from the old Sarmizegetuza. This center was named Colonia Ulpia Traiana Dacica Augusta Sarmizegetuza. This founding was celebrated at Rome by the minting by Senate order of a sestertius dedicated to the optimus princeps. The ancient city had an area of 32 hectares.

Mihai Manea, Adrian Pascu, and Bogdan Teodorescu: Istoria romanilor (Bucharest,1997), pages 107-122.

Cassius Dio, Roman History, books 67-68

Jerome Carcopino, Points de vue sur l'ìmpérialisme romain (Paris, 1924)

--Boicea Adrian Valentin, student at Polytechnics University in Bucharest,

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, A.D. 9. During Augustus's reign (27 B.C.-14 A.D..) , probably the greatest disaster suffered by the Romans was the defeat in the Teutoburg forest when the former proconsul of Africa , Publius Quinctilius Varus, together with three legions (XVII, XVIII, and XIX) , six cohorts and three squadrons of cavalry (alae) were practically slaughtered. According to Cassius Dio, the reason for this battle was that after Varus became the governor of Germania province (7 A.D.), he made the mistake of giving orders and asking for tribute from some Germanic tribes as if they had been subdued. In this situation, the Germans did not respond immediately and Varus was at first received peacefully by them, a thing which inspired trust in him; it seemed that these tribes would accept the Roman domination without a war. The Germans waited for a time before fighting back. Among the most important leaders were Arminius (also known as Hermann), the leader of the Cherusci (a Germanic tribe) and his father Segimerus. Arminius had served in the Roman army (A.D. 1-6), obtaining Roman citizenship and an insight into the Roman arts of war and policy. He returned to Germany in 7 A.D. In addition to Arminius, the Cherusci had as leaders four brothers: two named Segimerus, Inguiomerus and Segetus. Another interesting fact is that Varus had very often eaten meals with Segimerus and Arminius. (Cassius Dio, LVI , chapter 19) After awhile, some Germanic tribes, located at a long distance from the place where Varus had his army, began to rise in rebellion. Varus was obliged to take action against these tribes. The Cherusci had promised to help support him with men, but they did not accompany him from the beginning because they had told Varus they needed to gather soldiers. In fact, however, the Cherusci were already gathering troops to begin a fight against the governor. Varus left to take measures against the tribes that had risen in rebellion. In the convoy which left together with the soldiers were also animals , women , children and servants. This convoy was not well organized. Varus' troops eventually found themselves in the middle of a very dense forest. Being in a marshy and narrow field, and due to rain and wind, disorder and confusion in the ranks grew. Because the Romans appeared vulnerable in these conditions, the Germans came closer and attacked. The German attack on the Roman convoy continued for three days. The Germans had an advantage because they were not carrying heavy arms and they could therefore move more easily than their adversaries. The rain and wind continued and by the third day Varus' army was incapable of going any further or retreating to safety. Roman casualties were very heavy. In this desperate situation, with the end being very close, Publius Quinctilius Varus took his own life by throwing himself on his sword. Also, a few other important officers killed themselves. In this battle, about 20,000 soldiers were massacred. Varus' head was sent to Augustus and now the independence of these territories was assured. According to Suetonius (Aug. 23), Augustus , when he found out what had happened , cried: "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions! After this battle the Romans took the decision that never again would any other legion be named the XVII , the XVIII or the XIX. The Romans, for all their efforts to conquer Germany between 12 BC. and 16 A.D., met with only limited success. The Germans held their ground tenaciously and Roman leadership varied in quality. Although the Romans were able to avenge their defeat, they would not consolidate their rule in most of Germany or establish the Elbe as their outermost European frontier.

Kalkriese - Site of the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest During preliminary explorations and excavations since 1987/1988 until today in the Kalkrieser-Niewedder Senke, a 1-2 km-wide and about 15 km-long area in the district of Osnabrueck, Lower Saxony (FRG), Roman gold, silver and copper coins and pieces of Roman military equipment (to this day more than 3000 finds) have been discovered. It has been assumed that the finds were lost in the course of a military conflict. All discoveries suggest that this was the battle of the Teutoburg Forest in the year A.D.9. For additional information, go to http://www.geschichte.uni-osnabrueck.de/projekt/start.html. --Boicea Adrian Valentin, student at Polytechnics University in Bucharest






Battle of Yarmuk, A.D. 636. During the reign of Heraclius this battle was fought between Romans and Arabs in the Jordan valley in the Roman province of Palestine. The Arab forces perhaps numbered 24,000, under four commanders, including a contingent recently arrived from Iraq under Khalid. The Byzantine force, of unknown strength, consisted of the eastern field army, supplemented by garrisons from Antioch and Aleppo, as well as contingents of Ghassanid and Lakhmid Arabs and Armenians. The approach of Byzantine army forced Moslems to unite. The battle opened well for the Byzantines, who, as expected, pushed the Arabs back to their camp. Then the Arabs broke part of the Byzantine line and forced them into a wadi. Later, the Byzantines tried to break out, but were massacred. After the Yarmuk, the Byzantines rapidly lost control over Syria.


Updated: 20 November 2004


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