Friday, November 05, 2010

Battle of the Jiradi Pass

On the afternoon of June 22, 217 (all dates are BCE) Ptolemy IV “Philopater”, likely at the insistence of his generals and Sosibius in particular, had resolved to bring Antiochus III to battle. The two armies had been camped opposite each other for almost five days and the botched attempt on Ptolemy’s life by Theodotus, his erstwhile general of Coele Syria now in Seleucid service, was a product of this procrastination (Polybius, 5. 82.1; 81.1-6 – all references to this author unless otherwise stated). Two days previous Antiochus had closed down the distance between the two camps from 1.8 kilometres to a little less than one kilometre. As a result there “were frequent struggles at the watering-places” as well as “infantry and cavalry skirmishes in the space between the camps” (5.80.5-7).

Ptolemy, who had force marched his army “through the waterless region” from Pelusium to “the spot he was bound for” (5.80.2-3) some nine kilometres southwest of Raphia (near to modern Dikla) in five days – a distance of near 180 kilometres at 36 kilometres per day – had chosen his ground to a purpose. The Ptolemaic army, unlike the Seleucid, had not fought a major set-piece engagement in a generation with much of its work in the intervening years having been carried out by mercenaries. At the head of this largely untried conveyance Ptolemy’s general staff chose, as would other Egyptian generals 2,184 years later, to adopt a largely defensive strategy and block the Jiradi Pass...

Ancient Warfare IV.6

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