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Sassanid Persian

Sassanid Persian

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Historical Overview Section

The Sassanid dynasty was founded in 226 AD by Ardashir I after defeating the last Parthian king, Artabanus IV after the ruling Parthian dynasty had lost its grip on power across the Iranian plateau. Conflict with the Principate Romans began shortly after the foundation of the Empire with raids in Mesopotamia and Syria in 230, and was a near constant feature of the Sassanid empire. A Principate Roman counter-offensive in 232 under Severus met with mixed fortunes. The struggle resumed and intensified under Ardashir's successor Shapur I. In 259 he captured Principate Roman emperior Valerian I after crushing his army in the Battle of Edessa, but his subsequent advance into Syria ended in defeat. This pattern was to continue fairly consistently with neither side able to make meaningful territorial gains and the cities and lands between Syrian and the Euphrates changed hands with some regularity, as did the alignment of the Early Armenians who provided a regular pretext for war. The Romans usually won when they prepared well, and lost when they split their forces and let themselves be overwhelmed by the Sasssanid cataphract and archer cavalry forces. The Sassanids also fended off probes from various Kushan or Indo-Skythian armies on a regular basis, as well as from the Early Alans, and endured a fair few mini civil wars and succession disputes.

After a truce in the 350s Shapur II launched a new campaign in 359 provoking an offensive in 363 by the Dominate Roman Emperor Julian who gained a victory in the Battle of Ctesiphon. With both empires then preoccupied by barbarian threats from the north an unusually peaceful period followed, interrupted only by two brief wars in 421-2 and 440. At the beginning of the 5th century, the Hephthalite Hunnic forces along with other nomadic groups, attacked Persia. At first Bahram V and Yazdegerd II inflicted decisive defeats against them and drove them back eastward. The Huns returned at the end of 5th century and defeated Peroz I (457–484) in 483. Following this victory the Huns invaded and plundered parts of eastern Persia for two years. They exacted heavy tribute for some years thereafter.

In the early 6th century Persian ruler Kavadh I allied with the Hephtalites and campaigned against the Early Byzantines. His son Khosrau I, also known as Anushirvan ("with the immortal soul"; ruled 531–579), was the most reknown Sassanid monarch who reformed the government by also inflicted some spectacular defeats on the Early Byzantines. Later monarch Khosrau II followed these victories up and almost restored the ((Later Achaemenid Persian) Empire's boundaries, but a spectacular counter-offensive by the Maurikian Byzantines under Heraclius fatally weakened the Sassanid Empire just as the Arab Conquest arrived. That then finished them off inside 5 years.

The Army
The Sassanid army came ito being under Ardashir I (r. 226–241), the founder of the Sassanid dynasty. He reformed the military by forming a standing army which was under his personal command, restoring much of the Achaemenid military organization but combining it with Parthian cavalry and tactics, adding new types of armour and siege warfare techniques. The resulting system served him and his successors for over 400 years.

The backbone of the army was its heavy armoured cavalry - the Saravan - noblemen (semi-feudal knights) who underwent extensive military training. They were supported by armoured horse archers in an upgrading of Parthian practices. Sassanid cavalry tactics were adopted by the Romans, Arabs, and Turks. The Romans had previously fought mounted opponents namely the Early Sarmatians and Parthians however the recurrent wars with the Sassanids were an important factor in the Roman adoption of heavy cavalry in the 3rd and 4th centuries, termed Clibanarii. The Byzantine emperor Maurikios also emphasized in his Strategikon that many of the Sassanid heavy cavalry did not carry spears, relying on their bows as their primary weapons

Shapur II (r. 309-379) further reformed the army by adopting heavier and more effective cataphract cavalry clad in thick iron plates which covered their entire body. Some were armed with a lance and some with a sword and/or mace. The two types of heavy cavalry was complemented by lighter cavalry, recruited from among the sassanids allies and supplemented by mercenary troops. Gelani (Guilani), Albani, Hephthalites, Kushans and the Khazars were the main suppliers of this light- to medium-armoured cavalry.

Although in the early part of the period there are reports of well armoured Sassanid infantry - often taking part in the many sieges they undertook to shift the Romans from their cities - the usual view of Sassanid foot is one of lightly-armoured spearmen, who, like their Achaemenid ancestors, were levied troops of little fighting ability. Procopius of Caesarea famously derided them as "a crowd of pitiable peasants who come into battle for no other purpose than to dig through walls and to despoil the slain and in general to serve the soldiers".

The cavalry were supported by Elephants and elite foot archers who showered the enemy with storms of arrows. Elephants were recruited from India, but only in limited numbers. In some of the earlier Sassanid battles against the Arabs the victory was regarded as gained mainly by elephants.

Using the army in FoG

  • A big decision is whether to take the Elephants in what is already an expensive army. In an open book they are one of very few troops which can really stand up to knights head to head. However few are convinced that 2 elephants are worth bothering with. At least 4 or none at all would be a majority view.
  • Cataphracts - in 4's or 6's - many experienced players would recommend that you stick to 6s for the cataphracts. Each BG of cataphracts really needs its own personal general, otherwise it can't even wheel near the enemy without a CMT. You will also get more bang for your buck when your generals fight in the front rank.
  • ICs are not really necessary, as there are few fighting BGs, they are good quality and overall having TCs who can be committed to battle will do you more good than an IC who's influence is not really needed
  • Sassanids can benefit from an Arab Ally to give them MF for terrain, but are better off trying to avoid terrain altogether and using the points on proper Sassanid strike troops.
  • Try and set up a situation where your troops will not have to do much more than plough forward and crush the enemy. Everything in the army is pretty tough, so can have a go at most things frontally without trying to maneuver.
  • Palmyran is sometimes seen as a better version of this army, with more cataphracts and the option to take them as drilled as well.

Allied Contingents

  • Turk, Western : Date restrictions 591, Book: Decline and Fall Page: 30 - Superior Bw/Sw or Ln/Sw Cv and plenty of supporting LH make this useful if not entirely original
  • Kushan - Kushan or Indo-Skythian : Date restrictions Before 371 Book: Legions Triumphant Page: 23 - It’s a way to squeeze more cataphracts or elephants into the army I suppose
  • Alan, Early : Date restrictions 550, Book: Legions Triumphant Page: 41 - Lots of charging Superior Lancers (and plenty of LH bw/Sw to help them) gives this army another dimension
  • Armenian, Middle : Date restrictions Before 428, Book: Legions Triumphant Page: 55 - More cataphracts always impresses, but the Bw/Sw cavalry option is unnecessary for the Sassanids
  • Huns - Hephthalite Hunnic : Date restrictions 356 to 552, Book: Legions Triumphant Page: 73 - Lots of Bw/Sw cavalry and Lh in various permutations is always an interesting addition, and taking them all as LH may address a percieved weakness in the main army
  • Huns - Chionite Hunnic : Date restrictions 356 to 460, Book: Legions Triumphant Page: 75 - the 6 lancer Cv make this more than the usual Bw/Sw Cv & LH outfit - a nice change of pace
  • Huns - Sabir Hunnic : Date restrictions 463 to 552, Book: Legions Triumphant Page: 75 - Lots of Bw/Sw cavalry and Lh in various permutations is always an interesting addition, but the 8 HF impact foot will be hard to co-ordinate with a standard sassanid battle plan
  • Arab, Early : Date restrictions None, Book: Rise of Rome Page: 60 - Well, it has no minima, so you can choose between uninspiring LH and Cv, Poor Bw armed camelry, and some very average Lt Sp/Sw MF. Hoorah!

Tourney Results

2 / 18 Sassanid Persian Roll Call 2008 15mm (LT)
4 / 62 Sassanid Persian Britcon 2008 15mm (open)
5 / 18 Sassanid Persian Roll Call 2008 15mm (LT)
12 / 62 Sassanid Persian Britcon 2008 15mm (open)
14 / 27 Sassanids Britcon 2007 15mm (open)

User-contributed links about this army:

15mm Manufacturers supplying figures for this army

Image Image Image Image Image Image


You can see some of the figures in the Ancients Photo Gallery also on this site

Also look for manufacturers of Parthian figures for cataphracts, light horse and generic foot

Army Lists

Sample army lists for this army

800 ap Sassanid List used by Christopher Anders at the ITC in Lisbon 2009

  • 4 Chionite Hun Unprotected Bw Sw Undrilled Average LH
  • 4 Chionite Hun Unprotected Bw Sw Undrilled Average LH
  • 4 Chionite Hun Unprotected Bw Sw Undrilled Average LH
  • 8 Persian Slingers Unprotected Sling Undrilled Average LF
  • 4 Hephthalite Hun Unprotected Bw Sw Undrilled Superior LH
  • 4 Hephthalite Hun Unprotected Bw Sw Undrilled Superior LH
  • 4 Persian Armoured Bw Sw Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Persian Armoured Bw Sw Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Persian Armoured Bw Sw Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Persian Armoured Bw Sw Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Persian Armoured Bw Sw Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Hephthalite Hun Armoured Bw Sw Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 2 Persian Generals - TCs
  • 1 Chionite Hun Ally General - TC
  • 1 Hephthalite Hun Ally General - TC


This list went through several permutations before ending up in this configuration. I would have prefered running this with Drilled Armoured Cavalry but the ITC Period 2 dates precluded Drilled. In June, I had to shift to the undrilled variety. I used the Chionite Unprotected Superior lancers at Bayou Wars and found they were too much of a departure from the established doctrine of the army as I was comfortable in running it (shoot and scoot) so they were dropped and replaced with another light horse unit. Contrary to the prevailing opinion of horse shooty armies, I have only had two games time out time out in the last year (and one was against Cary Grant and shouldn't count). At the ITC, this army had 2 wins, 1 loss and 1 losing draw (which timed out).

800 AP list used by Spike at Britcon 2009

  • 4 LH, Bw
  • 4 LH, Bw
  • 4 Drilled Cv, Bw, Sw, Armoured, Superior
  • 4 LH, Bw/Sw (Allied)
  • 4 LH, Bw/Sw (Allied)
  • 4 Drilled Cv, Bw, Sw, Armoured, Superior
  • 6 LF, Sling
  • 4 Drilled Cv, Bw, Sw, Armoured, Superior
  • 4 Drilled Cv, Bw, Sw, Armoured, Superior
  • 2 Elephants
  • 2 Elephants
  • 2 Elephants
  • IC,
  • 2xTC,
  • TC as Allied General


"I used the rest of the army to support the elephant herd with LI screening them from shooting. The elephants, who are deployed last, seek out first the enemy cavalry/catefracts and only if they unavailable their HF/MF. Alternatively - Try to use troops as bait, to lure your opponent’s shock troops to charge into bad situations where the elephants can get at them easily"- Spike

800AP army list used in an open competition (IWF Rome) 2009

  • 10 Levy Spearmen, Poor, Protected Def Sp
  • 4 Cv, Armoured, Superior, Bw, Sw, Drilled
  • 4 Cv, Armoured, Superior, Bw, Sw, Drilled
  • 10 Levy Spearmen, Poor, Protected Def Sp
  • 6 LF, Bw, Average
  • 4 LH, Bw, Average
  • 6 MF, Bw, Unprotected, Average
  • 4 Cv, Armoured, Superior, Bw, Sw, Drilled
  • 4 Drilled Cataphracts,
  • 2 Elephants
  • 2 Elephants
  • 4 Cataphracts Drilled
  • 4 x TC

An interesting list this one. The levy confuse an opponent by coming out in 2 batches. The 6 MF bowmen provide rear support for the 2 units of elephants, who fought together against me, both with generals making them very tough indeed. The army can therefore fight on a narrower frontage than you might expect.

800 ap Sassanid List used by Richard Bodley Scott at Roll Call in 2008

  • 6 LI, Sling, Average
  • 6 LI, Sling, Average
  • 4 LH, Bw
  • 4 LH, Bw
  • 4 LH, Bw
  • 4 LH, Bw
  • 6 Cataphracts
  • 6 Cataphracts
  • 4 Armoured Bw Swordsmen Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Armoured Bw Swordsmen Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 4 Armoured Bw Swordsmen Undrilled Superior Cavalry
  • 6 LH, Bw
  • 4 Generals - TCs

The tactic used was to deploy close to one side of the table, with 2 wings of LH floating around, and a center of the 2 cat units together protected by Cavalry on either flank. The army then pivoted round on a steep hill occupied by the LI, so the generals fought with the 2 Cat units and 2 of the 4 cavalry units.



Name of Army / Date

  • Using asterisks inthe edit mode creates a bulleted list in the actual site
  • This is a lot easier to do than easier than setting up tables
  • For FoG I suggest listing your army in order or march
  • with troop desctiptions on each line, for example
  • 4 HF Armoured Average Drilled Impact Foot Swordsmen
  • 8 LG Undrilled Unarmoured Poor Bowmen
  • Dont forget to include your Generals !!!

Include any notes you want here, including comments on how to use - or play against - the army.

Remember to leave a line before you copy the above section as a template for your own list

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Created by admin. Last Modification: Saturday 17 of September, 2016 12:11:01 BST by admin. (Version 36)
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