Talk about the Sassanids having set-back by the very same Fire which leads to the near-collapse of the Empire. Kavad will certainly have his challenge ahead, question is will he succeed where his predecessors have failed?
Talk about the Sassanids having set-back by the very same Fire which leads to the near-collapse of the Empire. Kavad will certainly have his challenge ahead, question is will he succeed where his predecessors have failed?
That question will be answered... eventually. I'm a bit burned out in this TL, and the bulk of my energy is now focused on After 1900. That being said, it's still alive.
That question will be answered... eventually. I'm a bit burned out in this TL, and the bulk of my energy is now focused on After 1900. That being said, it's still alive.
I have not participated much since I don't know much about this time period, but I hope you will get back to it soon! It is very interesting and well written. Inspiration will come back eventually, focusing in other matters usually helps!
Part 36: Home Defense
Part 36: Home Defense

While Kavad was trapped in Pelusium, the task of defending northern Syria from the incoming Roman army in Anatolia fell to prince Narseh and, most importantly, his mother Sandhyagupta, who positioned herself as the leader of the regency council nominally tasked with helping the Shah's son run the country, but really performed the bulk of the daily work of administrating things, mostly behind the imperial heir's back and only using him as a façade in important state ceremonies. Through her son, she successfully raised a new army, composed of peasant levies, mercenaries and, of course, cataphracts, in the months that followed the disastrous Battle of the Nile. Surprisingly enough, perhaps, the initial panic in the court that followed said defeat subsided relatively quickly, thanks to two factors: first, Kavad was still alive, even if in a precarious position at the moment, and second, the Roman force, which was in fact led by emperor Aurelian I (1), was marching at a much slower pace than initially feared.

And now for something completely unrelated. Well, somewhat.

In the 84 years following Tetricus I's reforms and de facto partition of the Roman Empire into the dioceses, which were only ceremonially bound to one another and the rest of the greater Roman world, the power and standing of the emperor, who still resided in Mediolanum, had declined drastically. While the resources and manpower under his direct control were nothing to sneeze at (he was also the dux of Italia, which at this point had completely recovered from the catastrophic events of the Third Century), they were nothing compared to what men like Augustus, Trajan and even Claudius II had during their reigns.

Aurelian saw the Sasanian invasion of Egypt as the perfect opportunity to reverse this decline. While the duces of the westernmost dioceses, such as Britannia and Gallia, couldn't care less about what was going on in the eastern Mediterranean (and had more urgent matters to deal with), the more eastern/maritime ones, such as Africa and especially Graecia and Thracia, were terrified of the possibility of having to share the sea with Iranian ships, whose number would certainly explode if they were allowed to capture places like Alexandria and Cyprus uncontested. These three dioceses (along with Italia, of course) provided the fleet which trounced its opponents in the Battle of the Nile, as well as the bulk of the foot soldiers following him. His objectives were simple: attack Syria, score some victories, carry back home as much loot as possible, and maybe even conquer the place for good in case this campaign surpassed all expectations.

It wasn't until he crossed the Hellespont that he realized the task ahead of him was much more difficult than planned.


The mighty Taurus Mountains.

Though once an integral part of the Roman world, Anatolia, dominated by mountains in almost its entirety, was now a strange land, and full of unfriendly locals. The Hunnic kingdom had collapsed after a major succession crisis that completely destroyed the central government's authority, and was replaced by a multitude of principalities who were almost always at war with one another. The arrival of the Roman troops in their territory gave the more ambitious princes the chance to steal as much as they could from these foreigners (mostly food and extra weapons), a persistant nuisance that sapped the soldiers' morale even though they were constantly resupplied from the sea, or use them to settle local disputes in exchange for supporting their army with extra mercenaries, especially horse archers. Because of these dealings (even the positive ones), Aurelian's march slowed down to a snail's pace, and by the time he finally reached Taurus Mountains, in late 418 A.D., winter had arrived and it was too dangerous to cross them, forcing him to wait until spring next year before invading Cilicia.

And the Sasanians were ready to face him by then, having mustered a force of approximately 40.000 men who were waiting for the Romans' arrival near Anemurium (2), a town stuck right between the mountains and the sea. However, the defenders were consumed by internal disagreements, since Narseh, who was seen as a puppet of his mother and was eager to prove himself as a result, wanted to fight the invaders head on, while most generals wanted to withdraw to the east, somewhere near Tarsus, where the terrain was more suited for the Iranian cavalry. Unfortunately, the arguing went on until March 419 A.D., when Roman flags were seen on the horizon, giving the Iranians no choice but to stand and fight.

The Battle of Anemurium, just as the spahbeds feared, was an Iranian defeat. Stuck between the mountains and the sea, the Sasanian army's mighty horsemen (which comprised almost half of their overall forces) were unable to manouver and play a decisive part in the engagement, while the Roman infantry was more numerous and of much better quality than their opposition, which was composed of mercenaries and paighan, brushing them aside after a short clash. Humiliated and beaten, even if not completely defeated (the casualties his force suffered were manageable), Narseh ordered an all out retreat to Adana, abandoning Tarsus, capital of Cilicia, which was looted by the victorious invaders.

The Romans massacre Tarsus' civilian population, while the survivors are taken captive to be later sold into slavery.
But Aurelian's glory was short lived. Narseh, urged by his furious father, who was yet to break out of Pelusium, and hoping to avenge his defeat, soon raised new reinforcements to overcome the losses his army suffered. Many of these fresh soldiers were local Christians who, urged by preachers and priests who used Tarsus' sacking as a warning of what would happen if the hated Romans were allowed to enter their homeland, took up in arms to fight in the name of the dynasty which had allowed them to flourish ever since Shapur I's first conquest of the Levant in the Third Century (3).

A rematch was inevitable, and it finally happened in May, near the banks of the Sarus River, south of Adana. This battle was a respectable victory for the Iranians, since this time their cataphracts had plenty of room to manouver, scatter their opposition and hammer the enemy's flanks, forcing them to retreat lest there be a rout, which would've had disastrous consequences. Most decisively, however, Aurelian, who was in the thick of the fighting, was struck in the thigh by a mace and collapsed from his horse. Though he managed to recover and lead his forces into an orderly withdrawal back to Tarsus, the emperor's wound infected and he died from sceptic shock three days later.

With his untimely demise, more than 35.000 Roman soldiers suddenly found themselves leaderless (since it would take time for the generals to elect one of their own to replace him), and Narseh, though he didn't know it, had just destroyed the last remaining symbol of their empire's unity (4). Satisfied with his triumph, the Sasanian heir dispatched an envoy to hammer out a treaty with the western invaders, whose army would be provisionally led by Eugenius, a general of humble Thracian origins.

This document, which became known to posterity as the Treaty of Tarsus, had three main points:

  1. The Romans would have to hand over all stolen riches and captive civilians back to the Iranians;
  2. In exchange for that, they would be allowed to return home safely;
  3. The Roman Empire would recognize the Hellespont as the official border between itself and Iran, effectively handing over the eastern Mediterranean to the Sasanian dynasty with a guarantee not to intervene in any future advances in Anatolia.
All things considered, the Treaty of Tarsus was notoriously lenient, perhaps excessively so since the Romans were allowed to go back to their homes instead of being taken captive and deported to faraway Khorasan and Pars, as was custom at the time. Though a few feathers were ruffled because of this, Narseh, who would be given the epithet of 'Magnanimous' by future historians thanks to his forgiving character, had performed his duty and secured the north.

It was time for Kavad to wrap things up in Egypt.


(1) Obviously not the Aurelian we all know and love.

(2) Modern day
Anamur in Turkey.

(3) Not elite soldiers by any manner of means, but they're useful as cannon fodder.

(4) We'll take a look at Rome's situation after the war with Aksum is dealt with.
Well, that could have gone better for the Romans. I guess that with a possible conquest of Egypt the Sasanians are about to restore Achaemenid borders.
Part 37: Turnaround
Part 37: Turnaround

Kavad spent the months between the Battle of the Nile and his son's victory at the Battle of the Sarus holed up with his army in Pelusium, saving as many supplies as possible and using the cavalry to plunder food from the abundant Egyptian countryside. While they never starved, the absolutely enormous amounts of grain and water needed to keep 100.000 men in fighting shape forced the Shah to impose strict restrictions on the consumption of these precious resources, which, combined with the boredom that came from doing nothing for several months as neither the Aksumites (who were busy organizing a formal administration in the vast lands they recently conquered) nor the Romans (whose victorious fleet still patrolled the eastern Mediterranean) weren't sure of their ability to besiege a fortress that had so many defenders, depressed the soldiers' morale. This was supposed to be a brief victory, after all.

The ruins of a redoubt in Pelusium.

The boredom affected the Aksumites as well, and by December 418, upon hearing that his Roman allies in the north were ready to invade Cilicia while their naval blockade remained as strong as ever, Ouazebas decided to finally break the stalemate and begin a genuine siege of Pelusium. From the middle of that month onward, his soldiers, helped by local peasants who were tired of seeing years of hard work ruined and stolen by hungry foreigners, slowly built a ring of small redoubts and trenches around the great fortress, weak fortifications whose true purpose was to keep the Iranian raiding parties confined their little corner of the eastern Nile Delta, rather than withstand a determined attack. The defenders, unfazed, simply assembled larger and larger bands which burst through these improvised earthworks with little difficulty, and continued to deliver food and water to their companions.

Then disaster struck. On January 19, 419 A.D., a force of around 8.000 horsemen - around half of the Sasanian army's light cavalry - was, in the middle one of their usual raids, lured into a trap and slaughtered in what became known as the Battle of the Trench. With one swift stroke, Kavad's situation went from bearable to dire: unless he engaged the Aksumites - who had the support of the locals and experienced a surge in morale thanks to their victory - he and his men would starve. So he gathered some 80.000 men - leaving the rest to garrison Pelusium - and sallied forth to meet the enemy in combat. Ouazebas, knowing he'd likely never come this close to acquiring a numerical advantage over the Iranians ever again, met the challenge in kind.

A gamer's attempt at reenacting the charge of the cataphracts during the Battle of Pelusium.

The Battle of Pelusium was the largest military engagement to take place since the Achaemenid conquest (525 B.C.) and recapture (343 B.C.) of the kingdom in antiquity, both of whom were decided by encounters in almost the exact same place. It had everything to be a truly legendary battle: two huge armies composed of the best troops of their respectice empires, mighty and famous sovereigns leading them, the fate of a country with an extremely rich history hanging in the balance.

And yet, it was frustratingly anticlimatic.

There were no big, complicated manouvers, no decisive breakthroughs: both forces' infantry just threw themselves at one another head on, while the horsemen did the same, or at least tried to, since the Aksumites' agile light cavalry ran circles around the sluggish Iranian cataphracts, while their counterparts were too few in number to counter them effectively, having been gutted at the Battle of the Trench days before. However, the Kurds and the Daylamites once again proved themselves to be formidable soldiers, pinning their enemies in place while the cataphracts wheeled around to hammer the flanks. Or, at least, they would have, had Ouazebas not seen the way the wind was blowing and ordered a retreat before his soldiers were routed.

Thus, the Battle of Pelusium ended in a stalemate, since Kavad didn't have enough light horsemen to pursue the Aksumites properly, while theirs constantly harassed his troops in return. The stagnation that reigned until that moment returned, since the Iranians had the chance to destroy their besiegers' earthworks during their return to the safety of the fortress' walls and were no longer under the threat of starvation.

It wasn't until the Battle of the Sarus and the Treaty of Tarsus that the Egyptian front finally saw some action once more. Free to communicate with his homeland without much difficulty thanks to the departure of the Roman armada, Kavad first congratulated prince Narseh for his success in the north, then ordered him to assemble a new supply fleet so as to reduce the Iranian army's dependency on plundering the countryside and alienating the local inhabitants as a result. Naturally, the future Shah (and his mother, of course) complied, and in July 419 the first convoy, full of grain grown in Mesopotamia and Khuzestan as well as reinforcements, landed just outside Pelusium after being laboriously assembled and loaded in Haifa.

It was time to go on the offensive, and the King of Kings had a target in mind: the mighty fortress of Babylon (1), located almost 200 kilometers to the south, which, assuming it fell to the Sasanian army, would effectively hand them over control of all of Lower Egypt and leave Alexandria defenseless. After a full month of preparations, and a slow, meticulous march, during which a supply line leading back to Pelusium was carefully laid and garrisoned, Kavad arrived at the gates of Babylon in September with an imposing army of 85.000 men and dozens of traction trebuchets almost identical to the ones the Hephthalites deployed decades ago but were still unknown to the west.

And then things went wrong. Again.

The remains of Babylon's citadel.

The fortress, which was built during the reign of Achaemenid ruler Cambyses II and went through countless improvements in the following centuries, proved itself to be a much harder nut to crack than Kavad anticipated. It was a truly impressive structure in those days, with walls that were 18 meters tall and 2 meters thick, as well as numerous towers and bastions. To make matters worse, it was jam-packed with supplies, a garrison at full strength and a huge moat fed by the waters of the Nile, which also provided the Aksumites a supply route that was almost impossible to cut off without control of the other bank of the river. Ouazebas also had another card up his sleeve: the fortress of Clysma (2), located at the northernmost end of the Arabian Gulf, which although nowhere near as imposing as Babylon or Pelusium, was surrounded by kilometers upon kilometers of harsh desert, and provided an excellent staging point for raids into the besiegers' supply line.

Never one to back down from daunting odds, Kavad ordered the army to set up shop and begin probing Babylon's defenses in search of a weak point. However, the moat was not only a seemingly impenetrable barrier for ground troops, one that was infested with crocodiles to boot (3), but it forced the attackers to set up their siege weapons much further away than they were supposed to, meaning that most of the stones the trebuchets threw either missed their mark or bounced off the walls harmlessly. The Shah ordered the moat to be filled with rocks and earth, but every time the Iranian soldiers tasked with this unenviable job tried to do so they were met by successive volleys of arrow fire from the defenders, while the giant hungry carnivorous reptiles lurking underwater made the situation even more terrifying.

Can you blame them for being scared of these things?

The siege wore on with seemingly no end in sight as September gave way to October, then to November and December. But even though the besiegers' casualties grew every time they pressed on, their efforts were bearing fruit, even if at an extremely slow rate: the moat separating them from their objective was shrinking with each passing day, and every meter they gained meant their trebuchets' shots became more accurate and effective. But the garrison was fully aware of this worrying development, and dispatched a message to Ouazebas urging him to amp up the pressure on the Iranians and divert their attention. The Aksumite king, obviously not interested in suffering what would be a catastrophic setback for his cause, rallied his available troops, bolstered by local recruits (around 78.000 men) and set up camp in Giza, right next to the Iranians' position but on the other side of the Nile. He had no intention to engage his foe in battle directly, but rather wanted to merely distract him for now with the threat of doing so, before pouncing on the moment the Iranians began to withdraw once their siege failed, during which their morale would be at its weakest (4).

This move immediately had its desired effect, since Kavad, terrified of the possibility of being pinned between Babylon and Ouazebas' army, dispatched a non negligible part of his troops to watch over the single available bridge nearby so as to prevent the enemy from crossing it unopposed. At the same time, the attacks into the besiegers' supply lines steadily increased in both frequency and intensity, hampering their operations even further, so that February 420 their sluggish but steady progress had been ground to a halt. As one final, terrible and almost divine touch, the overcrowded Iranian camp was struck by an outbreak of cholera, and in a matter of days thousands of men were either dead or incapacitated thanks to dysentery. By March, the besiegers were at their breaking point, and it was at that moment that an astute mercenary, whose name was unfortunately forgotten, proposed a plan to the Shah, an absolutely insane gambit which would've been laughed at were things not so desperate.

Having noticed that a section of Babylon's outer wall wasn't as heavily defended as the others, he argued to his sovereign that the trebuchets should be dismantled and their wood and ropes be used to create makeshift barges. These barges would allow a small number of soldiers to cross the moat at night, scale the wall and then kill as much of the garrison as possible while they were still asleep. Not seeing any alternative other than retreating and risking interception and annihilation in a field battle before his exhausted and demoralized army returned to the safety of Pelusium's fortifications, Kavad agreed to the plan, which was set to be put in motion in March 7.

It was a cloudy, starless night, and almost everything was pitch black save for the distant fires of the army camps stationed on both banks of the Nile. Shrouded by the nearly impenetrable darkness, dozens of shoddy little boats, each one of them carrying several soldiers who were handpicked for this task, silently waddled their way through the waters of the moat surrounding Babylon at a snail's pace, careful not to set off any of the 'living mines' whose hisses and growls echoed menacingly throughout the landscape. After several minutes that felt much longer than they really were, the first men finally landed near the part of the wall they were supposed to attack, and soon enough everyone was in position.

With everyone accounted for, and the few nearby Aksumite sentries still unaware of their presence, the mercenaries used ladders to scale the wall and then silently disposed of them before they could alert their comrades. As the attackers made their way into one of the towers, killing anyone who stood in their way, they noticed something that made their mission infinitely easier: apparently, the garrison was sure of their inevitable victory that they spent most of the day partying and drinking, to the point they were now profoundly inebriated and in no shape to fight.

By the time the sun rose on March 8, the Derafsh Kaviani could be seen flapping in the wind above the fortress' main citadel. After seven brutal months, Babylon had finally fallen to the Sasanian army, and Alexandria was now cut off from the rest of Egypt. Kavad was now just a few steps away from repeating Cambyses' feat.

And he would get some very welcome help from home.


419 A.D.:

January: The Battle of Pelusium takes place. It is an indecisive encounter.

September: The Siege of Babylon begins.

420 A.D.:

March: Babylon is captured in a night attack.


(1) Located in modern day Cairo.

(2) Located in modern day Suez.

(3) Babylon is practically right next to the Nile, so it's not really a stretch for a few crocodiles to just crawl there for whatever reason.

(4) It's basically an "
army in being" strategy, so to speak.
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Wow, the Sassanids have made great progress in Egypt, hopefully, they can capitalize on it and take the rest of the country. Awesome chapter (especially the bit with the Crocodiles)
Personally I am very interested in seeing Persian and Indian cultural synthesis. Hopefully Buddhist thoughts able to deal with Shankar and vedanta in this timeline. What they need more focus on Mahayana and more focus towards lower caste and laypeople. More missionaries are needed to strengthen Buddhism in India.
Cool timeline. Small point it would be Sandhyadevi and not Sandhyagupta as she was not a male child
Well, I had a brief PM discussion on the matter with a few experts on India in the hopes of making a credible female name with the oomph that comes with the -gupta suffix, and we came to an agreement.

Also, Prabhavatigupta's name seems to indicate that while giving the -gupta to women was uncommon, it wasn't impossible.​
Personally I am very interested in seeing Persian and Indian cultural synthesis. Hopefully Buddhist thoughts able to deal with Shankar and vedanta in this timeline. What they need more focus on Mahayana and more focus towards lower caste and laypeople. More missionaries are needed to strengthen Buddhism in India.
I'll see what I can do once I write an update focused entirely on the situation of religion (Manichaeism, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sol Invictus and so on).
Great update!!!
Thanks a lot!