Chapter 14 : The Dacian Campaign: An abrupt end to a succesful war 223-227
councillor of King Glitterhoof the Mad
- Mar 3, 2014
The Dacian Campaign: An abrupt end to a succesful war 223-227
In the spring of 224, Guntomar was ready with all preparations and initated his campaign against Dacia.
A glorious war that will make out of Burgundy a great and powerful kingdom after striking down a dangerous opponent in the south. Sacking the many wealthy cities in middle of important trade routes would bring astronomical amount of wealth to Guntomar, also a lot of manpower and many slaves, transforming Burgundy from a mere uncivilized tribe into a new rising kingdom.
Contrary to other tribe chiefs, Guntomar was higly educated, he travelled across all europe, reaching as far as Mauretania et Baetica and Roman Egypt. After the assassination of his father, he returned and stabilized the kingdom back. He was a knowledgeable man and was especially interested in roman style of warfare. He tried to emulate it, altough unsuccesful he was able to adopt some key features. Obviously it was impossible to copy it entirely, it was more complicated than the pure equipment and martial tactics. Logistics were a very important aspect, Burgundy simply did not have it. It needed infrastructures, developed cities, he understood this and focused only in copying what the burgundian army could exploit. Even the dacians were not able to adopt the roman style of warfare. They relied on mainly heavy infantry armies, which a small part was a permanent standing army, but even so, the art of warfare remained very... dacian.
Few similarities, like an organized army and line marching army was introduced. The dacian sword, the falx, was very effective. It was a weapon with curved blade, that was sharp on the inside blade similar to sickle in form, a tool adapted for war. On a lesser degree, the rhompaia was used too, mainly by thracians, it was a version with even a more curved blade. In the same way, dacian shield, evolved to be a bit bigger than their old counterpart but still smaller than the roman scutum, sometimes was completly absent when the falx was two handed. These troops became shock troops, as the one handed version became the norm, only a small part of the army was comprised of such troops and were used in weak points of enemy army to breakthrough, usually supported by the small but heavy armored cavalry, when was not busy protecting the flanks. Their use in battles was fairly limited since it was a mere simbolical military unit, used more for parades, representing the dacian superiority over its foes. In later imperial years, just a century before the start of the Dark Ages, it assumed more propagandistcal reasons than for martial ones.
The use of such units came completly out of use when the empire would also enter a slow but unstoppable period of instability. The small number of cavalry would be a serious problem for Dacia, in this war and in some of the most decisive wars in future. But, since this war was won, and the wars in between were succesful too, the use of cavalry still remained of very limited use, even during the Persian Wars, where the dacians kept pouring more and more manpower and resources to overcome the troublesome persian cataphracts, until the eventual persian kingdoms collapse.
It was mostly in part due to a double invasion. The Western Satraps, rivals to Dacia, were fearing the empire would become too powerful if it would successfully invade all of Persia. So the two empires began a race to conquer Persia, lenghty and very costly wars both in resources and manpower, would only result in a great disaster down the road, but thats for the future chapters.
Dacian soldier, heavy infantry, the backbone of any dacian army
Guntomar not only did learn from the romans, he also inspired himself from the scythians. The backbone of his army might have been the new type of barbaric heavy infantry he introduced, but the majority of the army was light cavalry, many of them being horse archers. They were not nearly as effective as the nomadic horse archers, since it was a newly introduced unit in Burgundy, but simply the sheer numbers made up for it. Despite the overall poor combat efficiency, they possesed speed, very important and essential in the new war, Guntomar had planned so carefully. Sadly for him, with the capacity of hindsight, we know, he quite used the cavalry not at the best capacity.
One year earlier he made a visit to the marcomanni chief, an old friend of his father, Vithicab, the old alliance he had with his father was renewed. Despite Being only two tribes invading Dacia, this time the invading armies were another beast. Vithicab, was also considered a strategist mastermind, never losing a single battle against the other tribes. They tried to invade Burgundy in a small alliance, he gained unprecedented prestige and power, as nobody dared to oppose him. Being able to destroy easily any attacking tribe army, using advaced tacticts, fainting retreat, ambushing the overconfindent armies and shattering their morale, was a common tactic for him to use. He fought against other tribes, with a smaller army and always came out victorious. Guntomar was a smart man recongnized for his genial military reforms.
The war for Dacia began in a sudden and dramatic way. The deteriorating health of Tarabostes did not help either, the old wounds did not get that much better and the king, was losing touch with reality isolating himself more and more and leaving the state affair to his trusted few men, that obviously abused the power behind the king's back, increasing corruption in the kingdom, cutting the army payment by a fourth and even reducing the pensions of retired veterans by half and speding the kingdoms money in building luxurious estates for them. The permanent dacian army, was underfunded and decaying, the recipe for disaster. Indeed that disaster, came in the spring of 224, not only the standing army was simply unable to be deployed rapidly on the border, but even the numerous peasant army could not be raised, at all. The answer was simple, this would have caused total economic collapse of Dacia, even for a couple of months. Decades of civil war and a pandemic were still hauting the kingdom. The king, despite his previous passive behaviour, reacted at the war, historians tell, reinvigorated, a new man. Maybe it was time for him to fight the past traumatic experiences. Historians agree that he suffered of post traumatic stress disease. He tought , he would fight back the invading horde and win, little did he realize that would employ old tactics against a new type of enemy, another recipe for disaster. As the dacian army was slowly responding to the invading threat.
Guntomar, used the cavarly to quickly capture poorly fortified cities and most of all, pillage and plunder, bringing immense wealth back to Burgundy. Pannensis and part of western Dacia were occupied in few months. When the dacian army finally reached the region in summer of 225, a whole year, while the kingdom was completly undefended. The army was met by Vithicab and soundly defeated. Vithicab despite directly controlling a smaller army and not as well equiped, killed a third of the infantry and almost anihilated the dacian cavalry. The sources are conflicting but it is likely that Vithicab himself suffered heavy casualties as half of his foot soldiers and a fourth of his cavalry. It was a costly victory but Marcomannia was able to refill the lost manpower for now, Dacia was not.
After this dacian defeat, marcomanni and burgundian forces started to move south, into Maladina. Guntomar did not want to invade the underdeveloped client-state. He instead wanted for them to revolt against Dacia and join them. Maladina was controlled by men deeply loyal to the previous king, Spartacos and they still remained loyal to Tarabostes, thus they refused. Maladina at this point was helpless and heavy raids were organized to further weaken the unstable puppet. The coastal cities, contrary to the rest, were very developed, since responsible for trade, and in a sense, were direct dacian territory, most of them were heavily plundered and some even destroyed, hurting the dacian trade for years to come. The reason these cities fell so easily it is that there were not any defenses to withstand attacks from mainland. No one ever tought about that, a myth of invincibility was shattered during those days. The kingdom, empire in all but name, after all, could fall as easily as it rose.
Vithicab did not only stop there but started to push further south, into Thracia.
This greatly alarmed the cappadocians, they feared soon the barbarians will be coming into their land too. Suddenly their empty promises of help, became concrete actions. In autumn 225, in the battle of Malva, near the borders of Thracia, a combined force of dacians, thracians and cappadocians, managed to stop the advance of a burgundian army, the main invading army split, while Vitihicab was busy plundering the west of the kingdom and Guntomar besieging cities in north-east. A less capable commander was unable to achieve victory and the army with heavy casualties had to retreat.
The Second Battle of Malva, saw the combined force, defeated. This time, Vithicab, personally led a quick counterattack with his army and what remained of the defeated burgundian force. The combined armies took different routes, the cappadocians retreated to Byzantion to reorganize, leaving alone the dacian army that was forced to head to the capital, while the small thracian contingent was completly destroyed. Upon arrival small skirmishes took place as several smaller burgundian forces were surveying the area. But since the dacian main force arrived, the best course of action was to retreat and regroup with the nearest army.
The Two Battles of Turdava, fought bitterly, saw a burgundian attempt to chase away the dacians from the capital or even better force them inside the capital and prepare a lenghty siege while the horse units would capture rapidly key cities across the kingdom and force Tarabostes to surrender. Guntomar, was sure, if the dacian army would collapse, Cappadocia, would eagerly negotiate with him, and in the worst case would immediately cease all the hostilities, while in the best case he would even gain great monetary compensation. He was not wrong at all. The great territorial conquests Cappadocia made, were very hard to maintain. They entered this war, with the conviction that would be the same as the first one. Getting on the friendly side of Dacia was of vital interest for Cappadocia, if they did not want to face threats from all sides, as the entirety of Anatolia was hostile to them. Cappadocia hoped for a limited if not total sphere of influence over East Rome, thus having friendly relations with Dacia, was a necessity. The policies of Spartacos and succedently of his son, have shown to the cappadocians that Dacia was not interested in the remaining part of empire. What was the king interested in, however, was a balance of power, they would never allow Cappadocia to grow too strong, the previous dacian guarantee made to East Rome, was inequivocable proof of that. As hard the peace was mainted the war could erupt in the easiest possible way.
Despite strong assaults, he failed both times, the dacians were able to repulse the enemy each time. Guntomar's army took heavy casualties while the defenders only light casualties. Tarabostes, even ordered to chase the fleeing enemy and even managed to capture in a weak position the rear guard and slaughter them all. After destroying the rear guard, Tarabostes felt confinded and decided to push further, this time, in burgundian lands, the rest of the burgundians did not expect dacians to chase them even in friendly territory and was accamped oblivious of the incoming threat, another slaughter took in just a few hours, even the prisoniers were all killed, not for cruelty but more for a practical reason. Keeping prisoniers in an already losing war would become nothing but an burden, any sudden counterattack could liberate all those men that would join against Dacia, again. Tarabostes could simply not take prisoniers with him nor leave them somehwhere, because it was potentially unsafe anywhere and Guntomar would only had to liberate them while the dacians were busy elsewhere, possibly with some diversion. He had the mobility Dacia lacked.
It was not far from a disaster for Guntomar, for sure was a heavy blow to his plans, he had lost one veteran army in a risky gamble. It all began with just one small indecision of Guntomar, he was unsure what was the real size of the dacian army entering Sarmisegetuza and if it had any reinforcement or cappadocian army behind it. The defeat of his scout groups, worried him, as he did not expect them to engage in any battle at all. Being unable to tell if it was a single army or more, he slowed his march on the capital. Tarabostes, caught up quickly with his plans and placed his troops near Turdava. He took an advantageous terrain and was expecting the enemy. Despite such a drawback, Dacia did not manage to recapture back any lost territory and was able to barely defend its capital, in the overall picture, Burgundy was winning this war.
Staying in burgundian territory was becoming more dangerous with each passing day. Tarabostes, himself, did not have any proper scouting units and was basically blind in enemy territory. As Guntomar, he too, took a gamble, potentially even bigger than his germanic counterpart. The only advantage he had was the absolute confusion of his enemy, when he engaged them on the different occasions and the fact the he was able to preserve much of his manpower.
While Guntomar was forced to leave his army and save his life, Vithicab was busy occupying Thracia. It was a lenghy process, as Thracia was protected by a line of fortifications, first built by romans to contain the dacians and later expanded by thracians to protect their kingdom from romans and even dacians, should Thracia one day revolt. The objective was to force Thracia out of the war, he was not a great diplomat to convince them to revolt and decided to just take down Thracia. It was a tactical error, even from the time's point of view. Altough it was not impossible, it would prove to waste a lot of time that could have been used to intercept the dacian army and destroy it definetly. The marcomanni chief decided to not pursue them. He was sure, his burgundian ally would be able to easily destroy the fleeying dacians. What he failed to forsee was the almost destruction in one unfortunate battle, of almost the entirety of burgundian scout units and the consequent tragic defeats. Vithicab decided to wait for Guntomar after occupying the subordinate kingdom. He was sure if Guntomar would come, Cappadocia would leave the war. The cappadocian army until now was waiting for the dacians, to come to Byzantion and literally escort their army. No cappadocian leader would take indipendent actions, without the dacian counterpart to take the most casualties. They were instead hastly improving the already existing fortifications and were preparing for a siege. In the end, it was a justified behaviour, as Cappadocia had manpower to reinforce their army to only a small degree and it already had suffered great casualties and monetary funds were also severly lacking, losing the only army would mean the end of the kingdom.
In the end, Guntomar would never come, he lost one entire veteran army and even a messenger would not make it in time.
With the defeat of Guntomar in Turdava, this event marked the beggining of a series of poor decisions that will undermine every burgundian-marcomanni success and will ultimately end the war in few decisive battles. The final joint push in Thracia never happened, Vithicab was intercepted by the dacians in the worst time possible. He was traversing a river and his army was split. Occupying the capital of Thracia was a hopeless pursuit without any proper burgundian assistance, the sent cavalry proved capable only to take over the newest and incomplete fortifications over the roman border. The older ones has been destroyed by the rebels trying to free themselves from the romans, as we know, only to find themselves defenseless against the invading dacians. Vithicab decided to take Adrianuopoli and march directly on Byzantion and wait there, he was getting impatient by the continous delay of his ally. He hoped to force the Cappadocia out ot the war by threatening its new capital, he had no more time, summer was ending he did not want to fight in bad weather.
On top of that, the cappadocian army, was approaching fast, this time, a joint dacian-cappadocian offensive was happening. Altough the dacians would suffer the majority of casualties, the cappadocians had their merits in bloking any escape route expect a narrow passage and while they tried to escape slaughter a great number and chase the rest with the cavalry killing practically the rest of the marcomanni army. After the battle of Pulpudeva, there was virtually no organized marcomanni army in Dacia except a few thousands under direct control of Guntomar. Of eighteen thousand a staggering 11.000 were killed in the first battle and the rest seven thousand were annihilated near Pulpudeva while attempting a desperate escape towards captured territories. While all this was happening the burgundian cavalry not far stationary not far away from there was totally unaware of this. Before a next dacian-cappadocian attack they were able to retreat safely towards west in Maladina. News of Guntomar were completly absent, some even tought he was killed and a valuable military asset left the dacian mainland barely fighting against the dacians. From that point on, Guntomar would not be able to use his cavalry anymore and would be forced to rely on fresh, inexperienced troops.
Vithicab was killed too, he was already in his sixties and despite his venerable age for the time, he still was a great military leader, few were better than him, even Guntomar was a less skilled miltary leader, he was more succesful in leadership but in pure military skill, Vithicab was unparalleled. Uncertain records, affirm he fought many defensive wars to preseve his tribe but never expanded. It is possible that Burgundy was saved by him too during the transition of power after the death of Sigismund.
It is unclear, even today, what really happened during that battle, how a commander of his caliber, failed to see not one army but two armies advancing on him. The most plausible answer that can come to mind is the weather. It was november when the three armies engaged and it is very possible that the weather was not one of the best. Recons were sent, but with high probability the heavy rains must have covered the sound of a moving army. In fact, the unusal approach of the dacian king, certainly saved the kingdom from more years of devastating war and conquest. Records write, that the lifeless body of Vithicab was lifted from the muddy ground and shown to the captured prisoniers before they were all killed. It was intended to be paraded on the streets of Sarmisegetuza along with other marcomanni chiefs and obviously later, Guntomar.
Burgundy was large, but was mostly undeveloped and the scythian population was not exactly cooperative, thus only a small part could effectively be mobilized into the army, despite adopting their cavalry methods and developing into a much larger scale of warfare.
The people of the north were at the same time both barbaric and not.
(Attributed to an anonimus pannonian historian)
This would prove a problem for Dacia in future, that would involve itself more and more in germanic geopolitics, first actively and later passively, always supporting a status quo and interviening against tribes that become too big or powerful to be left alone. This support was usually in monetary helps and sometimes even technological help. At the begining advantegous for Dacia, would have disastrous consequences down the centuries...
The death of Vithicab was a heavy blow to the invading forces but was not an unexpected one. Guntomar was aware of this and even Vithicab himself, said to him he would probably not return to Marcomannia and already appointed a successor. The situation would be stable in Marcomannia even with his death, the war would continue and have a succesful ending. Guntomar on the other hand, was heirless, he poured all his time and energies to prepare the kingdom for the Great Invasion, how he liked to call it. The burgundian people will settle in new prosperous lands and rule as conquerors. It was a very ambitious plan, realistically speaking, considering the subjects as part of one entity, could be called empire. Dacia was transitioning to become an empire, at least unofficially, the nation would become an empire only after the total invasione of Hellas and the dissolution of status of empire of East Rome, becoming an insular kingdom. A sort of merchant kingdom, an early version similar to the medieval merchant republics, where instead of a doge, the basileus once emperor that reigned over vast lands, now reigned the greek isles of Sicily, Crete and Cyprus and some other minor islands. With great probability the inspiration for the merchant republics came from this early version.
Upon arrival of news of the death of Vithicab, Guntomar had already another army marching, even with his absence Burgundy could still win this war, its presence in Dacia was still a very real threat. His cavalry was still doing great damage in the kingdom pludering and capturing cities, there was no way to stop them, too fast to be caught and always avoiding direct conflict, ambushing unware reinforcements of peasants or mercenaries, or was what he was thinking, many months of lack of contact between him and his cavalary deep into dacian territory under temporary command of Vithicab was a mistake. Maybe the cavalry itself was rebelling, historians are unsure. But in the his final battle, Guntomar had only two thousand cavalry of the total of ten thousand.
In 227 Dacia with support from Cappadocia, starts recapturing lands both in east and west. Guntomar has failed to destroy the core of the dacian army and capture Thracia and peraphs convince Cappadocia not only to leave the war but switch sides. Historically the most probable choice by the cappadocian king would be to wait a siege in a fortified Byzantion and leave the war if the collapse of Dacia was immninent, switching sides was out of question,the overall situation was too unstable. Having favours from dacians, Cappadocia could request help if the rebellions would prove too much. After all Dacia was still a huge empire and wealth would continue to flow inside, soon again. Guntomar was too ambitious after all.
Dacia managed to recruit a gigantic army of mercenaries, up to ninety percent of the whole army was formed of mercenaries. The costs to keep such an army were unconcevaible for some smaller kingdoms at the time. Despite this, the treasury would allow the king to employ such an army for years and years. It would prove unncessary, soon the fate of both powers would be decided. As Burgundy was left alone in this war, with a couple of thousands marcomanni warriors, the expedionary force of Vithicab has been defeated completly and no other reinforcements would arrive from the now neutral Marcomannia.
He expected the dacians would first try to recapture the lost cities, so he started to build the army for one more, the last battle. As his cavalry proved to be rather uncooperative, or rather no news of the cavalry at all in months. He tought his cavalry was destroyed with the marcomanni. It was not wrong to think so, except such army found itself isolated in Maladina, by the approaching armies of Cappadocia and Dacia. Its commander chose a rather passive behaviour and stayed there. Attacking one the both armies would prove a suicide move, since most of those armies were composed of heavy infantry. On the same hand, dacians and their allies were rather reluctant to attack an army that could easily outmanouver them. By the summer of 227, Guntomar, finally recevied news that his cavalry was stuck in Maladina. He became furious for the conduct of his commander and send messangers urging him to unite with his army. The response was negative, the cavalry refused to move. It is unclear if he saw this as treason or simply was not possible to move the army without significant casualties. As his twenty thousand were approaching, he sent another messanger with a clear order to support his new army to attack the army placed most north, it was the one with the biggest number as Tarabostes was expecting Guntomar would exactly attack that one. Guntomar was desperate and was running out of time. The war was becoming unpopular at home and summer was over already. He could not afford to wait another season and he was alone now.
In a ironic joke of fate, the same unforgivable weather Vithicab was forced to fight, Guntomar had to witness. He tought it was a good sign from the gods, approaching the dacians would be easier and he would lose less men. Also the cavalry would arrive any time, too...
The immediate attack was a success and one day passed, two day passed, the battle soon became extremly brutal. Many casualties on both sides and in the end Guntomar had to retreat hastily towards his territory, thru Pannensis. He had not recevied any support and as he heard the second army would soon approach him, he disheartenly disengaged from the bloody fight.
As the weather cleared a bit, the northen army was in a horrible state. Up to forty percent losses while the germanic army has lost even to sixty percent.
Winning now was out of the question, the most obvious choice was to retreat deeper into friendly land and regroup with what remained of any armies and reorganize and...there was not much hope left anymore. Guntomar, decided to stay and defend, the gate to his homeland. After two days of brutal fighting his army was completly devastated and he sent one last messanger, urging for the cavalry to come to his aid.
Guntomar was killed in the final last battle, his body was never found. He would fight a losing battle, he had already lost the war, his enemies close to home. There was not much more he could have done.
In the end, the disparity of forces was too great. But the most important question of all, why defend, why fight such a disavantageous battle? The answer was simple, most of all the venedi scythians were still rebellious and other conquered germanic tribes were deeply dissatisfied by his rule. They barely recognized Guntomar as their king. While at peace he was able to assert absolute control thru sheer brutality but he was now in a long war with no apparent end in sight. Him retreating would cause massive rebellions and he would have to fight both rebels and dacians and important supply roads would be cut off. He could see this all, he could even see the other powers aventing themseleves over Burgundy like hungry wolves ready to tear it apart. In that day he decided that he would die like a honorable death in combat.
In hindsight we can see that Guntomar used his cavarly mostly for quick strike operations and avoided fight, it was not the most efficient way to use it. The use in battle of cavalry was limited, he was sure his infantry was enough. It is clear if he had used more his cavalry he would have been able to destroy the core of the dacian army on more occasions than one. But we must look at the fact, that the disrupting operations were made to prevent recruitment of peasants into the army. The peasant militia could raise up the number to many thousands. Dacia was forced to use mercenaries, it was not a problem. Guntomar failed to realise this, he tought the empire was on the brink of collapse in case of a prolonged war and especially an invasion of such scale. There was the last one, the most important occasion to use it, it could have changed the war to a total victory and even cause the fall of Cappadocia by destroying its army too. The commander in charge decided to not act and ignore all orders. Was it a deliberate move, or he knew the war was over and it would prove a futile action that would leave Burgundy truly defensless afterwards, we will never know.